Restaurant Development & Design

SEP-OCT 2018

restaurant development + design is a user-driven resource for restaurant professionals charged with building new locations and remodeling existing units.

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2 0 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • S E P T E M B E R / O C T O B E R 2 0 1 8 TREND Choolaah Indian BBQ HQ: Cleveland Randhir Sethi and Raji Sankar, fran- chisees of Five Guys Burgers & Fries units in Northeast Ohio and Pittsburgh, sat on their idea for a genre-breaking Indian dining concept for nearly 12 years before kicking it off in Cleveland in 2014. Inspired by the traditional sanjha chulha clay oven, around which villagers would gather to prepare meals and share conversation, Choolaah Indian BBQ celebrates those traditions and seeks to reinvent the Indian dining experience around them in a modern, fast-casual format. The company operates five units. In addition to Cleveland, over the past year and a half, it has developed two units in Virginia and one each in King of Prussia and Pittsburgh. Its vision: "To have a Choolaah on every corner of the globe," says Jay Nesbitt, chief creative officer. Nesbitt, who previously owned a marketing and branding firm, feels the time of fast-casual Indian cuisine has come. "Raji and Randhir were clients of mine," he says. "I thought what they were trying to do was incredibly ground- breaking. I sold my company and came on board to help create the branding and grow the concept." To develop the menu, Sethi moved his family back to India and spent a year researching authentic recipes and techniques, from family-style favorites to two-Michelin-star chef specialties. The team then worked to adapt recipes and streamline systems to ensure the culinary staff could prepare and serve the selected dishes in a fast-casual, four-minute window. Choolaah Indian BBQ cooks all of the naan and hot fillings — chicken, salmon, lamb meatballs, paneer, tofu with vegetables, and vegetable croquettes — in custom-built, gas- fired tandoor ovens that reach nearly 700 degrees F. Guests can choose Two locations, in San Mateo and San Jose, also feature a separately branded, speakeasy-style bar called Mortar & Pestle. Customers can access the bar from inside or via separate street entrances. Full service in format, they offer the Curry Up Now menu, Indian-inspired classic cocktails (such as a Bangalore Old Fashioned with garam masala and Indian rum), microbrews and specialty wines. "All corporate stores going forward will be that dual-concept model," Kapoor says. "It's been very successful, ac- counting for one-third of total sales at those units." The company has two additional corporate stores in development, plan- ning to open one in late 2018 and the other in early 2019. The big develop- ment push, however, will come from franchising, primarily of the smaller (1,800 square feet/50 seats inside), traditional fast-casual prototype but also of the larger (3,500 square feet/90 to 100 seats inside) bar and fast-casual model. As part of its dive into franchis- ing, Curry Up Now uses the former Tava unit as both an operating restaurant and R&D/training facility. And Kapoor is working with a design firm to refine its prototype, which includes self-order kiosks as well as self-serve taps for beer and wine. "We spent months looking at imagery from a lot of different cities in India, modern stuff, street stuff, etc.," Kapoor says. "Too often, when some- one walks into an Indian restaurant in the U.S., all they see are elephants, peacocks and pictures of the Taj Mahal. That's not what India is, but that's what we've done to ourselves, and for some reason, it has stuck. We offer a very dif- ferent experience — vibrant, colorful, up-tempo, and driven by the street and street-food culture. That's who we are." Choolaah's newest prototype features podiums instead of a traditional front counter to make engaging with guests easier. Creative installations, including a 17-foot stack of Indian books, add color and interest. Image courtesy of Richard Kelly

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