When Ramesh Kumar opens the All India Café next month in the former home of Ferrara Ristorante, he intends for the environment to be beautiful and the food excellent.
Like his other two restaurants — both named Gandhi, one in Silverdale and one on Bainbridge — this restaurant will feature Indian food from the Punjab region of northwestern India, he said, an area well known for its curries and clay-oven cooking, which is a traditional Indian cooking method and has been done in India for thousands of years. Throughout India, the cooking of the northwestern region is popular, and in this country, Kumar said, it is the food of that region that Indian restaurants typically serve.
The menu at the All India Café will include a wide range of dishes, from chicken and lamb to vegetarian and vegan dishes, he said. One of the most popular items at the Bainbridge restaurant will be on the menu here: garlic naan (bread) baked in the clay oven. Cheese naan is also popular, he said, especially with children, and that will be on the menu, too. Curries will be plentiful, and he hastened to add curry has a variety of flavors.
“Many people in this country think of curries as being hot, but that is not always the case,” Kumar said. “Curry does not mean it’s going to be like it will burn your tongue. Not that we can’t make it that way,” he added, laughing, noting customers five stars for their spiciness.
One of the challenges of opening a restaurant is finding and training the staff. But Kumar is planning on bringing most of his staff with him from his other restaurants.
“Most of the kitchen staff has been working with us for 15 years,” he said, dating back to their restaurant days when Kumar lived in California.
In fact, it was some of his staff who helped convince Kumar that opening up a restaurant in the Ferrara space was the right choice.
He had been thinking of opening another restaurant for about a year, he said, and was considering Gig Harbor. He read about this opportunity in the paper and came to Vashon with his wife in January. They were struck by the beauty of the restaurant and the kindness of the people, he said. In February, he came back with some of the people who cook for him, he said, and they made their thoughts clear as they prepared to go.
“We are not leaving this door unless you say yes,” Kumar said they told him.
In the dining rooms, Kumar said he had originally thought he would redecorate, but since they are beautiful now, the two front dining rooms will remain mostly as they are. In the back dining room, though, Kumar and his staff are working to create an authentic Indian room with low tables and pillows all around. It will be a romantic area, he said, and open by reservation only.
“It is going to be really nice,” he said. “Wait and see.”
Matt Bergman, former Ferrara owner and the owner of the building, is looking forward to the restaurant’s opening.
“I’m very excited about it,” he said. “I think it’s going to provide a wonderful addition to the restaurant opportunities on Vashon.”
Bergman noted that there were other businesses interested in the Ferrara space, but he felt that the All India Café offered some of the best possibilities.
“I was looking for a restaurant that could be sustainable over the long-term,” he said. “We had a lot of potential restaurants expressing interest. And my number one concern is that this is a concept that works on Vashon and a business model that can be effective over the long term.”
Bergman believes Kumar’s two other successful restaurants and the fact that one is on an Island are good indicators of success on Vashon.
“We’re hopeful it will be there for many years to come,” he said.
Kumar, 38, came to this country in 1988 and settled in Los Angeles, where he worked as a dishwasher. He has held every restaurant position there is, he said: dishwasher, busser, waiter, kitchen helper and head chef. By 2001 he was ready to open his own restaurant and was looking for a place that did not have any other Indian restaurants. He and his wife had a 3-month-old baby then, and they wanted a safe place to live. A friend in Seattle told him about this area, he said, and they settled in Silverdale. He opened his first restaurant later that year. In 2005, he opened his restaurant on Bainbridge.
Opening this restaurant has a different feel to it than the others, he said, in part because of the kindness of the people on Vashon and the response he has received already.
“If I talked to 10 people in the past two days, nine out of 10 people knew and are excited,” he said.