At Kaylir Canteen in Chennai, your waiter and you can eat lunch side by side

Open in CIT colony, this 60-seater dining space serves delicious South Indian meals alongside the sentiment, everyone is welcome. And yes, your pets included... 
Kaylir Canteen
Kaylir Canteen

How do you capture a sense of community and put it in a bottle? We posed this question to stand-up comedian Bhargav Ramakrishnan aka Baggy and his wife Dhanya Srinath, who opened the very popular Kaylir Canteen in CIT Colony recently. With no prior experience in hospitality but a clear vision to create a space where everyone feels welcome — this duo doesn’t have an instantaneous answer. But take a moment to look around while you enjoy your meal and you will find several.

<em>Owners Bhargav Ramakrishnan and Dhanya Srinath 'paws' for a break.</em>
Owners Bhargav Ramakrishnan and Dhanya Srinath 'paws' for a break.

Come together
For starters, there is no divide between the staff and the customer. And that means, your waiter eats his lunch right beside you. “One of the reasons we opened a canteen with South Indian meals even though we personally eat more pasta and pizza at home, was that it occured to us while planning, that we would never want to open a restaurant that our Maheshwari akka at home could not eat at,” Dhanya says. Meanwhile, colourful art that jumps off the walls reflects a warm sentiment of sharing is caring with familiar, relatable sights from namma Chennai — from the giant graffiti mural on the outside of the building of a woman preparing vadais and sharing it with a hungry crow to the ‘share auto’ spilling out with people we spot indoors as our banana leaf spills out with a generous serving of veetu saapaadu.

<em>Expect wholesome South Indian veg meals with fun twists like a pineapple rasam </em>
Expect wholesome South Indian veg meals with fun twists like a pineapple rasam 

Flavours like home
On the lunch menu today is hot rice with a generous drizzle of nei and paruppu podi, an interesting pineapple rasam, sweet potato fry, palak kadaisal, vazhakka podimas and appalam kootu. Alongside the warmth of the service staff who come around asking if you want seconds (the meals are unlimited), the flavours are wholesome and taste like home. Although there are some fun plot twists that you wouldn’t normally find at a neighbourhood canteen that serves saapaadu, like the refreshment options which include freshly squeezed orange juice or an iced black coffee. And then we hear Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles, playing in the background which isn’t your expected accompaniment to the drumstick sambhar sadham we are in the midst of...

<em>We love the quirky but oh-so-relatable art on the walls</em>
We love the quirky but oh-so-relatable art on the walls

Recruitment rules
We also find out from Bhargav that just about anyone can work at Kaylir. “In fact, a majority of our staff have never worked in a commercial kitchen before this one,” he says. People who work here range from a 16-year-old orphan student seeking a vocational qualification to a 57-year-old ‘sweets queen’ who specialises in Suyian Fried Ice Cream and even folks eager to give back to community for a day like a couple who celebrated their anniversary serving meals for a day. 

Incidentally the name Kaylir is inspired by a line from Sangam-age poet Kaniyan Poongundranar: 'Yaadhum oore yavarum kaylir.' It translates to ‘every place is our town and everyone is our relative’. So it’s no surprise that this space is pet friendly as well. How do you capture a sense of community and put it in a bottle? Turns out you alone can’t. But little by little, it grows if you will simply take the time to make everyone feel at home, which starts with a smile and saying hello.

Kaylir Canteen is located at 9, CIT Colony, 1st Main Road. Open for breakfast and lunch. A meal is priced at INR 200.

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