In this series of light-hearted interviews, BiTES celebrates homegrown food companies headed by their next generation of family members. We get a glimpse of the stories behind the brands and the personalities in the boss’ seat.

How many people know the recipe to Muthu’s curry fish head?

Only two, me and my younger brother Srinivasan who takes care of operations. The recipe was developed by my father, Ayyakkanu S., who was inspired to create a South Indian version of the Goan fish head curry. It uses sea bream and has just the right amount of assam, spices and texture.

What was your father like?

He was strict, disciplined and hardworking, but also kind hearted. He could speak very good Teochew and cooked well. From around age 15, I would accompany him to the Tekka wet market at 5.30am to do all the day’s fresh purchases. These were the days before cold rooms. I remember him in his sarong, singlet and towel over his shoulders. By observing and listening, I learnt how to choose the best sh head, prawns and seafood. After the market, he would bring me for my favourite breakfast—Horlicks and soft boiled eggs. He died young; he retired at 48 and had a heart attack one day before his 50th birthday.

Did you always want to join the business?

At the back of my mind, I was prepared for it. I knew that as the oldest son, he would want me to take over, but I thought to go to university first. I studied Commerce at A-Levels and completed my National Service, when he suddenly asked me to take over.

How did you modernise the company?

When I started helping out at 13, I did the cashiering on those big old cash registers. I eventually persuaded my father to change to POS systems along with some other processes. Where technology is needed, we’ll adapt. We’re rolling out iPad e-menus from next month, and we work with foodpanda and Deliveroo as some customers prefer to have their food delivered. Although I don’t drink, we worked with a consultant to match a good range of wines to the food.

What are the challenges to running Muthu’s Curry?

The restaurant outlook is uncertain, mainly due to the labour crunch. It’s making it dif cult to open more outlets, so we focus on maintaining the current ones with our 82 staff. Our central kitchen where we prepare the masalas is one of the important investments we have made, with this it will be possible to open casual kiosks in future. The most important lesson from my dad was to stay humble and work hard. To that, I would add we have to keep up with the times and maintain high food quality to stay competitive.

How do you unwind?

I exercise and have a modest gym at home with weights and cardio machines. My family, which includes my three teenage children and wife, enjoy working out together. We also go out for movies and dining.

Do you have a signature dish?

(laughs) I don’t cook at all, as my wife, Veshali, is a good cook. She modernises South Indian dishes with western touches and also makes it lighter and healthier as the whole family is into fitness. When I eat out, I love roast chicken rice.

Brief timeline of Muthu’s Curry

1950s> 11-year-old Ayyakkanu S. came to Singapore
to work with his father, Suppaiya. He toiled long hours washing cars and making deliveries for provision dealer Selvi Stores while also helping cook in the kitchen.

1969>Ayyakkanu opened an unnamed food stall at Klang Road, which was then named Muthu Makkan Shop after a customer commented that the curry was a gem, or pearl. “Muthu” means pearl.

1974> The stall moves to 78 Race Course Road and becomes a restaurant, and in 1982 combines with adjoining unit 76. As advertised on their namecard, the restaurant is “fully airconditioned” which is a milestone for that era.

1984> Then 13-year-old son, Kasivishvanaath, moves from India to Singapore to study and help his father.

1994> Ayyakkanu of officially retires and hands over the business to 23-year-old Kasivishvanaath. Ayyakkanu returns to India, where he passes away in 1996.

1997-2002> Construction of the Northeast Line affected Muthu’s badly as Race Course Road was closed.

2004> The restaurant moves to its current location with a modern outlook, including a larger menu, wine pairings and sleek decor.

2007> Opens at Suntec City and followed by a Dempsey outlet in 2010.

2016> Muthu’s launches central kitchen operations from Tuas.