Covid-19: Indian, ethnic eateries in US set for big hit

Even as business suffers, Indian American restaurants tout healthy Indian food over frozen dinners.

Indian American restaurateur Ajay Walia owns the Michelin starred Indian fine diner Rasa in Burlington, California.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to alter lives and economy in America, he admits that he has not seen tougher times, especially for the ethnic food industry during his 30 years as a business owner in America.

Walia, took the responsible call to close down his eatery, just as he sensed the disease growing globally.

With his contemporary Indian fine-dining space being shut until further notice, he worries each day about growing bills.

Many American restaurants are currently relying on sustaining their business through take-away orders and deliveries.

But Walia’s super fine diner, which has consistently earned a Michelin star for the past four years, could not take the same route.

“My eatery is a luxury dining space. We have always had 99% of our customers as dine-in patrons,” he said.

“While we debate over whether to open the take-out option each day, the truth is for super fine-diners it does not make much sense.”

“Also, as a responsible citizen, I do realize that our business is a luxury dining space and does not really come under the essentials category.”

While Walia took the tough call, he admits that the decision takes a toll as a business owner.

“With revenues not coming in, the liabilities are piling up,” he said. “There are things like lease, rent and bills to take care of.”

“Like millions of other Americans, we explored the Stimulus package, as well as the Covid-19 Economic Injury and Disaster Loan, but the SBA (Small Business Administration) website crashed just the next day people began applying for loans.”

Walia, like millions of other Americans, is feeling the heat of sustaining a high investment business in the face of no return.

Though the fine-diners remain worst hit, business is far from usual for most eateries across the United States.

However, eateries with a take-out model and those that enjoy neighborhood loyalty are also reporting touching stories of patrons trying to ease their burdens during tough times.

Naperville, Illinois,-based Sanjeev Pandey, who runs a locally popular fine dining place, Indian Harvest, shares one such story.

“The first day when we closed our dine-ins, a patron, an American lady, came to us with a big order saying she got a bonus sometime back and decided to use that money to help us.”

Even though eateries like his, with take-out options, are sustaining, the business is far from what it was.

“Before the pandemic 80% of our business was through dine-ins and 20% through take outs,” Pandey said. “Now we have about 35% of business coming through take outs.”

Most chefs agree that the biggest brunt would be borne by eateries that were quick serve places frequented by tourists.

“We understand many people continue coming to us because we have had a loyal following,” Pandey said. “Being in the business for 23 years really helped bolster that confidence neighbors have in us.”

Even Walia agrees that neighborhood places with great track records are seeing take outs.

His other eatery, Saffron, just 5 miles away from his Michelin star restaurant is open for take-outs and patrons are trying to be as regular as they can be during these times.

All restaurant owners are acutely aware that once the markets re-open it will be some time before business picks up.

Walia feels that ethnic eating joints have taken a tough toll. “It is sad but some people have been avoiding Chinese eateries,” he said.

“Also during times like this, people also tend to stick to their comfort food choices,” Walia said. “So, for someone who may not be an avid Indian food eater, would like to stick to his familiar cuisine for some time to come.”

“In these unprecedented times, ethnic eateries would suffer. I would think people will take some time before they will feel confident enough to try out a new cuisine.”

Pandey, however, would like to take this opportunity where people are apprehensive about many things to educate Americans about Indian food.

“It is the best time to have an India meal instead of processed, frozen meals,” he said. “Indian ingredients such as turmeric and ginger have so many antibodies that help build immunity.

“Also, whether it is our tikkas that are grilled to perfection or the curries that bubble on heat for hours, everything is so well cooked and healthy.”

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One Comment

  1. Ben Prusinski

    Yeah, shut down those horrible joints. CHinese and indians and their so-called eateries are nothing but disease breeding grounds that spread viruses, flus and other garbage all across the globe. They don’t practice any hygiene and are extremely unclean. Time to boycott their stuff permanently.

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