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India's 'Coffee King' Disappears After Allegedly Writing Letter Apologizing for His Failures

VG Siddhartha allegedly said that he had "failed as an entrepreneur," and asked for forgiveness.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Jul 31 2019, 12:21pm

Two hundred police officers and 50 diving experts from both the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard are searching the area around a bridge in southwestern India, hoping to find any sign of the man known as the country's "Coffee King." VG Siddhartha, who founded the Cafe Coffee Day chain, was last seen on Monday night, when he told his driver to stop the car so he could talk a walk near the Ullal Bridge near Mangalore. He was talking on his cell phone when he got out of the car and started heading toward the bridge.

The driver waited almost two hours, and when Siddhartha hadn't returned, he called the police. Although officers and divers were on the scene within a few hours, heavy rains in the area have made their efforts increasingly difficult.

"[T]he water was muddy and divers could not see beyond a few feet despite underwater lights. Three motorized dinghies, one hovercraft and an [Indian Coast Guard] ship have been deployed for the rescue operations," a Coast Guard commander told Forbes India. "One helicopter was expected to join the search operations from the Goa base of ICG."

search for VG siddhartha
Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Siddhartha opened his first Cafe Coffee Day store in 1996 in Bangalore. "The youth and the young at heart immediately took to the cafe, and it continues to be one of the most happening places in the city," the chain's website says. "CCD to the youth is a 'hangout' spot where they meet people, make conversations, and have a whole lot of fun over steaming cups of great coffee."

In the two decades since, CCD has expanded to over 1,700 locations in Egypt, India, Malaysia, and Nepal, as well as in the Czech Republic and Austria. (By comparison, Starbucks—the world's biggest coffee chain—only has roughly 150 stores in India.) Reuters reports that Siddhartha had even been in talks with Coca-Cola to potentially sell Cafe Coffee Day for as much as $1.45 billion.

There has been speculation that Siddhartha was facing mounting debts, and that he had faced "harassment" from India's income tax officials. (The Income Tax department confirmed to Reuters that it had opened an investigation into Siddhartha after finding "credible evidence of financial transactions done by CCD in a concealed manner.")

In a statement, the Board of Directors of Coffee Day Enterprises Limited said that they were "shocked" by Siddhartha's sudden disappearance. "In this hour of need we are counting on the support and strength of all our stakeholders including employees, customers, lenders, contractual counterparties, media, and well-wishers and request all to keep their morale high," they wrote. "We are requesting the media to honor the privacy of the family at this time and avoid any speculation."

The board also released a letter that was reportedly written by Siddhartha two days before he vanished. In the letter, he says that he had "failed as an entrepreneur," and asked for forgiveness. "I would like to say I gave it my all. I am very sorry to let down all the people that put their trust in me. I fought for a long time but today I gave up as I could not take any more pressure from one of the private equity partners forcing me to buy back shares, a transaction I had partially completed six months ago by borrowing a large sum of money from a friend," he allegedly wrote.

"I sincerely request each of you to be strong and to continue running these businesses with a new management. I am solely responsible for all mistakes."

The authenticity of the letter has not been verified; CCD officials told The Indian Express that they had yet to "confirm the genuineness" of the correspondence, and a source from the Income Tax department said that Siddhartha's signature didn't match the one on CCD's annual reports.

The search for Siddhartha is expected to continue on Wednesday.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

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