Indian cuisine takes off in America
It isn’t just Indians eating Indian food, its Americans loving it. I think it is because it can be a healthy alternative to American dining. It comes in a range of spiciness and it is good to have someone instruct in how to order Indian fare.
Here is a wonderful example of how Indian-American entrepreneurs are finding success.
“Fast-casual Indian fare, recipe for a dream
By Danielle Douglas
Monday, December 6, 2010
During last week's opening day for Merzi, a fast-casual Indian restaurant in the District, owner Qaiser Kazmi estimates, he served up rice bowls and naan rolls to some 350 people. That's more than triple the crowds he used to attract at the Chevron mini-mart in Anne Arundel County, where he started out two years ago.
Back then, Kazmi occupied a fraction of the 1,400 square feet that now houses his 49-seat restaurant in Penn Quarter. But from the gas station mini-mart he refined his recipes and business plan to turn the pit-stop eatery, then called Kazo Kitchen, into a full-fledged restaurant.
"I met people who loved the food and by chance introduced me to investors," said Kazmi, who had quit his job at a telecom company in Baltimore to pursue his culinary vision. "I found people who believed in what I was doing" and had the business acumen to develop the concept.
Merzi, which means "choice" in Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi, stays true to its name. Guests can pick and choose what they want with their oven-baked naan or basmati rice, for around $8 a meal. Think Chipotle.
Kazmi considers his fare "deconstructed Indian food" because of such American-inspired offerings as the Tandisserie chicken -- tandoori-seasoned, rotisserie-style bird. He is particular about the restaurant's ingredients and makes an effort to buy organic and locally grown.
Kazmi says he's been impressed by the response of Washingtonians to his restaurant. "People are more educated in their understanding of non-American food here," he said, adding that the city's cultured demographic and high profile were selling points. "This is a great place to grow into a national brand."
Fast-casual restaurants have been making a big splash in the Washington area this year. Salad and yogurt bar Sweetgreen swung open the doors to three locations in the past several months. The owners of Matchbox debuted their hot dog concept DC-3 in the District this summer, while Pizza Authentica turned on the lights at a new location in Ballston.
Cheap eats have been popular during the downturn. Sales at the top 100 fast-casual chains reached $17.5 billion in 2009, a 4.5 percent increase over 2008, according to Technomic, a research and consulting firm.
Kazmi is certainly bullish on the niche market. With the backing of investors, he is scouting locations in the District and Arlington to open three more restaurants in the next year. Within two years, he hopes to have 10 locations in the Washington area. Down the road, Kazmi may consider a franchise model, but for now he wants to manage quality control and perfect the format.
"From the outset, I've been thinking multiple stores. And you have to, if you want to be successful at this," he said.”