A 66-year-old man behind a hugely popular vegetarian restaurant chain was convicted of murder but continues to expand his global franchise and enjoy his freedom, according to a riveting New York Times Magazine article.
The South Indian restaurant chain Saravana Bhavan has 33 outposts in India and 47 around the world, including one on the East Side of Manhattan that has gotten a ton of praise on Yelp.
P. Rajagopal, who owns Saravana, was sentenced to life in prison in India in 2009 for orchestrating the murder of the husband of a woman he wanted to marry.
However, he served just 11 months of that sentence. Rajagopal also continues to dominate the globe with his light South Indian fare, Rollo Romig writes in The New York Times Magazine.
India’s highest court granted bail to Rajagopal in May 2009, after his lawyer told the court he had paralysis and needed medical treatment, One India News reported. Rajagopal will be out on bail until “the disposal of the criminal appeal in view of his medical condition,” according to One India News. In reality, Romig writes for The New York Times, nobody expects him to go back to prison anytime soon.
“It’s amazing how he managed it,” Sriram V., a local historian, told The New York Times. “I mean, our legal system is not that bad.”
The murder Rajagopal was charged with — and convicted of — is both gruesome and bizarre. Reportedly on the advice of an astrologer, Rajagopal became determined to wed the daughter of one of his assistant managers, a young woman named Jeevajothi. She wasn’t interested in the older restaurant mogul, though. Instead, she fell in love with and married her brother’s maths tutor, a man referred to in the press as Prince Shantakumar. (It’s not clear whether Prince was his first name or some kind of royal designation.)
Rajagopal didn’t let that marriage stop his pursuit of Jeevajothi, though.
In October 2001, Shantakumar’s strangled body was found in the forest in the hills of India, The Indian Express reported. His official cause of death was “asphyxia due to throttling,” according to The Times. Prosecutors say he was killed by one of Rajagopal’s henchman.
In 2004, a local court convicted him of culpable murder and sentenced him to 10 years in prison, but his sentence was suspended eight months into his term. Five years later, India’s Supreme Court upgraded the conviction to murder and gave him life in prison. Then he got bail again a few months later.
While The Times of India has called him a “notorious criminal,” it doesn’t seem like Rajagopal’s murder conviction hurt his business. That may be because the food — which has been called “splendid” and “the best South Indian restaurant in Manhattan” — is really, really good.
One loyalist told The New York Times, “Some of my friends used to say, How can you go and eat in his restaurant? You’re actually fattening the wallet of a murderer. And I used to tell them, Look, I don’t know with whom I do business in my day-to-day activity, whether he’s a drunk or beats his wife. I have no idea, but I do business. So as long as he’s giving me good-quality food, I go there.”
We reached out to Saravana Bhavan to give it a chance to comment and will update this post if we hear back. In an interview with The New York Times, Rajagopal denied culpability for the murder and said he was “punished for someone else’s mistake.”
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