Indian-American friends and business partners Anthony Sankar and Premnath Durairaj installed their own bistro in the US in 2019. Amid the pandemic, their Spice Kraft Indian Bistro in Virginia’s Alexandria became a go-to place for desi community members looking for comfort food.
In 2020, the two friends moved to a more prominent place and set up another bistro in Arlington. The duo graduated from culinary school in the late 90s. Their careers began at Chennai’s Taj Coromandel.
“We met at the hotel and became good friends. From there, we moved to the United States to work with Marriott Hotels on a cultural exchange programme, after which we started working in an Indian restaurant, gained some exposure, and then were finally able to open our own restaurant as we dreamed of,” Sankar was quoted as saying.
Spice Kraft Indian Bistro is located in a family-friendly neighbourhood. Before the pandemic, it was not only popular among Indians but also among mainstream customers. However, when the pandemic began devastating America, the vulnerability of Indian cuisine to flourish in mainstream American culture was exposed.
“People tend to stay with comfort food during times like these. We are dependent on the Indian community to thrive in this situation and just to survive. Fortunately, we had adapted well to the technology before the pandemic itself – offering online ordering, partnering with a delivery service, etc.,” Sankar said.
The duo’s restaurant offers a whole range of Indian cuisines, from samosas to braised lamb shank.
“We believe in accommodating vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores with an innovative restaurant menu that will make customers feel welcome. Many die-hard non-vegetarians quickly replaced chicken tikka masala with its vegetarian counterparts like vegetable, tofu, or paneer tikka masala,” said Chef Durairaj.
The dishes can even be customised with a protein and sauce of the customers’ choice. A menu section has been made particularly for vegans and gluten-free lovers.
“We have a moderate number of fusion dishes and mixed drinks such as chicken tikka burger potato kuri kuri fries; quinoa kale kofta with turmeric coconut sauce; lamb shank rogan josh with south Indian potato mash; blueberry chutney martini and curry leaves and smoked cumin margarita,” Chef Durairaj said.
However, challenges remain even after the US economy opened up after the pandemic.
“From workforce issues to Indian grocery supply chain and increase in product prices, we face many challenges. Fortunately, we didn’t get hit by the pandemic as much as other restaurants, mainly due to effective management of our operating expenses and adapting to the changing situations,” Sankar said.
The duo now plans to set up new restaurant branches at specific locations in Washington DC and Maryland.