Boben Mammen recently opened his South Indian restaurant Adhithi in Montville, and praise is rippling across the range. Victoria McGuin caught up with him and found out this modern day Renaissance man has plenty to offer in addition to his delicious cuisine.
One of my favourite buildings in Main Street, Montville, with its domed roof and wrap-around verandah, has been reborn as Adhithi, which means ‘guest’ in Sanksrit.
Boben Mammen originally hails from Kerala, “the only place in India with a 100% literacy rate. Education is a business over there. We export people!” he laughs.
With a strong education behind him, Boben began working as an artist, painting portraits in oils for families in Kerala, until his father encouraged him to move into advertising.
“I worked in advertising agencies, and back then it was all done by hand, not with computers.” He also became a self-taught graphic designer, and his skills and business acumen led to him to becoming the head of a creative team for a Kuwaiti billionaire for seven years, travelling in his private jet and moving to the Middle East.
“We built and designed a whole restaurant in Thailand and shipped it to Bahrain,” Boben tells me. “It was decorated down to the chandeliers and custom-made cutlery.
“But my boss decided he didn’t like it. So it stayed closed for six months, with all the restaurant staff still being paid, before finally opening.”
Eventually, Boben, his wife Anila, and their two children, Sharath and Hrithik, decided it was time for change. After a brief visit back to India, they moved to Maroochydore where Boben had regional sponsorship as a skilled migrant.
“They insisted we live in Maroochydore, but there were no jobs really. It has become a youngster-dominated industry. So I went from being at the top of my game, travelling in private jets, to struggling for work.
“People said, ‘why don’t you go back?’ but I knew it was better here. You throw away everything for your freedom.”
By his own admission Boben is always one to bounce back, so he began painting again, oils and acrylics, and started a restaurant in Caloundra, then another in Golden Beach.
“It was around this time that I saw this building advertised in Montville,” he says. “When I saw the space it just came to me. It would be a restaurant, where I could cook my own, very personal food, my own recipes.
“But not only that, it has these wonderful other rooms, perfect for a gallery and selling beautiful objects and carpets.”
Boben decides it is time for me to sample some of his food, and he disappears to cook. Sharon Cane, the restaurant manager, comes over to chat.
Sharon used to live and work in Maroochydore and came up for her daughter’s wedding at Spicers Clovelly. Within a short time, she “chucked everything in’ and moved to Mapleton.
“It’s like someone lifts a mountain off your shoulders when you drive up the range,” she shares.
My Mosala Dosa arrives, a traditional pancake made with rice and lentil batter, with a mild savoury filling and presented on a white plate with bowls of stew and chutney. It is fresh, full of flavour and absolutely delicious.
The menu itself is full of interesting food combinations, from the Dosa selection to the Biriyani choices, and the simple surroundings with beautiful views add to the experience, as does the classical music from South India.
“I want people to feel like they are at a friend’s home having dinner,” explains Boben. “I think hospitality is very personal – you can’t run it remotely.”
Boben doesn’t plan to give the décor “Indian-ness” though. “I want to create an interesting space, but one that doesn’t segregate from community.
“I came to this country, and I adopted this new country. I want to celebrate that in the way I decorate Adhithi and with the art we show in our upcoming gallery, Artique Montville, and the things we sell.”
Boben is busy. Not only with his new venture, but with his art, poetry, stories, IT, graphic design work and a forthcoming web/art project back in India, which fills him with joy.
However, his main focus is Montville, and it seems even the grasshoppers are encouraging him.
“In India, the grasshopper signifies luck or money coming,” he explains. “My father used to send money home, and Mum wouldn’t walk over the hills to the post office until she saw a grasshopper. Then the money was always there.
“Now I see them in the evening here. I hope it means good things,” he smiles.
Adhithi is at 6/184 Main Street, Montville, and open Mon-Sun 10am-9pm, with gluten free and vegan options. Take away available. Ph: 07 5478 5703