Meet Mumbai's Rags-To-Riches Restaurant King
Mumbai: Over five decades ago, an aggressive trade union leader, George Fernandes, was tired and famished after leading a day-long agitation of taxi drivers.
It was around midnight and there were no decent eateries open. Walking around the historic Girgaum Chowpatty area, he saw a small stall selling Mumbai's favourite street food - paav-bhaji (soft bread-mixed vegetables) and fruit juice. The paav-bhaji is a spicy preparation with a mixture of vegetables, either whole or mashed, a generous dose of fresh tomatoes, a dollop of butter, optional toppings of cheese and dry-fruits and fresh fruits, consumed with warm bread gently or crispy fried in butter - an all-time, anytime favourite with Mumbaikars.
As he ravenously munched on the tasty paav-bhaji served promptly by the young owner Suresh Poojari, Fernandes relaxed and his day's tensions melted away.
Later, he became a regular visitor to the joint - known as Sukh Sagar - and made it a point to meet Poojari even when he became an important leader in national politics. Fernandes was defence minister in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government (1998-2004).
For Poojari, now 73, who came to Mumbai from Padukone village of Udupi, Karnataka, with dreams of making it big, boasting friendship with Fernandes in those days was a big achievement.
After all, the humble Poojari made it big in the city through his two-dozen strong chain of eateries in Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai, as also several units in the Middle East, and now plans to capture North American markets.