Tracing back to an era when cooking wasn’t as fancy as it is today, team Yo! Vizag brings you the awe-inspiring journey of Indira Vankineni, the founder of Venkatadri Vantillu. What started as a one-woman’s army is now a team of fifty dedicated staff, garnering appreciation from commoners to celebrities alike.
Dressed in casual attire, the sixty-two-year-old entrepreneur sits back in her living room, next to a pile of books and recalls the time when she moved to Visakhapatnam. To financially support her family, she ventured into the food business, back in 2002, with a meager sum of Rs 5,000/-. Renting a small space, she began making punukulu, mirchi bhajji, masala vada and other snacks. After receiving a positive response, she introduced her signature dish – sponge dosa, which changed her game altogether. “When I added sponge dosa to the menu, no one was willing to try the dish. Two weeks later, a customer tasted it and walked away without saying a word. The following day, he brought ten of his friends along with him,” Indira remembers.
Thereafter, her sponge dosa became a crowd puller. Encouraged by the response, she started serving other tiffins as well. Due to the increasing number of customers, she was asked to vacate the place after three months. In fact, over the coming four years, she had to shift her restaurant, thrice in Vizag. Quoting it as the toughest challenge of her journey, she shares, “From looking for a suitable location to setting up the restaurant, we had to do everything all over again. Even during those times, my staff and customers had stuck with me”.
Fondly called Aunty’s Kitchen by customers, Indira had run her outlet for the next four years, without fancy advertisements and for that matter, without a name. It was only in 2006 that she officially named it as Venkatadri Vantillu. “Believe it or not, there were days when we’d lost track of who was receiving the order. Such was the crowd. Now that I think of it, I feel that I was really lucky,” she adds.
After hopping to a couple of other places, the restaurant is now stationed at Siripuram in Vizag, offering authentic Andhra delicacies. Never afraid to experiment with the dishes, the sixty-two-year-old entrepreneur makes healthy dishes like korralu (foxtail millet) dosa, and kesari poori. From Tollywood stalwarts, such as K Raghavendra Rao and SS Rajamouli, to Tinseltown actors, including Regina Cassandra and Anupama Parameswaran, several prominent personalities have tasted her food. Narrating one of her most-cherished celebrity encounters, Indira says, “I was busy making dosas, when Chef Sanjeev Kapoor quietly entered our restaurant, without any hullabaloo. After having food, he came up to me and told me that he’d absolutely loved it. When validation comes from India’s most celebrated Chef himself, it truly means a lot”.
A few years ago, Indira took a back seat and retired from cooking at the restaurant. Her staff, who have been with her since the very beginning, take care of it now. “While I visit my daughter in the US, my team manages the restaurant here. We are like a family at Venkatadri Vantillu. At this age, the fact that I’m able to offer employment to fifty people gives me a great deal of satisfaction,” says Indira. With a smile of content on her face, she bids us goodbye and gets back to tutoring her staff’s children in the living room.