Bengaluru: It was a cold December morning in 2012. I was at Delhi airport to catch a flight to Bengaluru. I had reached early, at around 4.30am, for a 6.15am flight. Feeling hungry, I joined a long queue outside a south Indian outlet for ‘Idli’ and filter coffee. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned back with sleepy eyes. The man who was standing just behind me was none other than VG Siddhartha.
He was dressed in his usual dark jacket and carrying a briefcase. I asked him in Kannada “eenu ishtu bega? Yaavaga bandidri?” – How come so early? When did you come to Delhi? He replied in Kannada that he had come to Delhi the previous night on some urgent work and was returning home. We had ‘Idli’ and coffee together. Siddhartha ate like a commoner, sitting next to a dozen others in that overcrowded food court.
The Air India Dreamliner flight was late by two hours. Siddhartha told me that he hated lounges at the airport and preferred sitting with the economy class passengers. We decided to kill time at the Café Coffee Day outlet in the same terminal. He stood in queue, paid and bought two cups of Cappuccino for us. The staff at CCD did not know they were selling the coffee to their founder! Because Siddhartha was publicity shy. Not many in his company had seen him or met him.
Simplicity and humbleness were Siddhartha’s trademarks. Success had never gone to his head. He was a typical Malnad man; highly dignified, courteous, polite to a fault and always warm in his interactions with others irrespective of their class and social standing. It came naturally to him. Since I am from the same Malnad region, he had a special liking for me.
He was quiet embarrassed about the sobriquet ‘Coffee King’ and would always maintain that he was no king and was instead a commoner. He was firmly rooted in old village values and proudly wore his background as a badge on his shoulder.
Siddhartha was from India’s coffee bowl Chikmagalur in central Karnataka and his father was a rich coffee grower. Siddhartha was born and brought up in his village and completed his graduation from Mangalore.
Ambitious, Siddhartha went to Mumbai (then Bombay) to understand the stock market in the 1980s. He returned home with a lot of exposure and decided to make coffee drinking hep in the early 1990s. With one outlet on Brigade road in Bengaluru in 1996 to over 3,500 outlets in 2019, CCD became a household name across India.
Siddhartha was one of the very few 21st century Indian entrepreneurs who created a world-class brand. Besides Café Coffee Day, he was passionate about high-end wellness and luxury tourism. He built Serai and Cicada resorts in his home town Chikmagalur and near Mysore, which are a big hit among people.
Siddhartha was fond of people from Malnad region of Karnataka. He brought thousands of young boys and girls from there to Bengaluru, trained them and posted them at CCD outlets across India. According to an estimate, over 10,000 employees in his company are from Malnad.
He had a keen interest in traditional sports of the region, including wild boar hunting. He once surprised me by talking about wild boar hunting for about 45 minutes.
The huge success at a young age always sat lightly on his shoulders. He used to help his employees in trouble. He would attend both good and bad occasions at his village and neighbouring ones too.
A mild mannered, soft spoken gentleman, Siddhartha has left his footprints behind. It is a tragedy that he has left us when there was so much left to achieve.