Know how to tell when an ethnic restaurant is authentic? Check out the regular clientele. At Spice 'N' Curry in Sweetwater, you won't find tourists or South Beach jet set. Just some folks from the neighborhood, especially Indian engineering students filling up on a taste of home right in their backyard.
And it's no accident this exotic-food outpost is situated opposite the FIU Engineering Campus. Jay Mazumdar, co-owner with his elder brother Vivek, was once a student himself in Gainesville, graduating with a degree in finance from the University of Florida. He sniffed out the market down here and was attracted by the reasonable rent. "70 percent of my customers are Indian students looking for a taste of home at a good price." The food business is a creative outlet for the two, who also own and run an IT consulting company in their spare time.
The unassuming store meets cafe is, like most joints in this part of town, sandwiched in a strip mall between an Italian restaurant and Los Ranchos. But don't let that deter you from sampling homestyle foods prepared fresh daily on a constantly changing menu (Mazumdar's sister-in-law is one of the cooks). There's crowd-pleasing butter chicken, mutter paneer (curry with peas and homemade cheese) and a suprisingly tender Australian baby goat, simmered in a rich red chilli sauce that brings the heat. A delightfully ungreasy veg samosa is served with refreshing tamarind and coriander chutneys that are anything but cloyingly sweet.
|Like butta: the butter chicken at Spice 'N' Curry|
If you feel like taking matters into your own hands at home, this is the place to start. Choose from among vegetables delivered twice weekly, including locally-sourced, nutty green curry leaves for $1 per heaping bag, bhindi (baby okra) at $2 a pound and the tasty zucchini/white eggplant love child called dudhi (bottle gourd) for $1.29 a pound. Or, make life easy with a cornucopia of ready-to-eat meals, either frozen (microwavable) or non-frozen. Best sellers include paneer (mild and firm Indian cottage cheese) dishes, byriani and Indian-style Chinese fried rice. Top Indian brands to look for are MTR, Ashoka in the non frozen, and Deep and Raj Bhog in the frozen.
|Why not wash it all down with a strong Indian beer, a rare find to the usual Kingfisher|
Born in Ahmedabad, Mazumdar spent the majority of his youth (from three months old, on) in Mumbai. The family has a home in Calcutta, as well. He is a numbers guy with a passion for food, a great combination - along with stamina - for the food business. You don't have to look far to trace his influences; his father owned and operated a restaurant before he was born, so of course, it's in his blood.
|Jay Mazumdar making it happen at the register|
The bags of fragrant basmati rice also have more than just Indians frequenting this outpost for exotic edibles in what is a predominantly Latin American neighborhood. Mazumdar's friends didn't immediately understand the choice of location. "At first, my Cuban and Central and South American customers had tasted basmati before or had heard about it," adds Mazumdar. "Now they won't even cook their traditional rice dishes without it." A lot has changed in the year and a half since doors of the modest 1000-square-foot space opened, including the steadily climbing monthly revenues.
The success may have something to do with the ease of navigating around Spice 'N' Curry, thanks to its personal touch. Venture out of your local culinary comfort zone and one of the brothers is always there, eager to provide a taste of Indian culture and history as well as a crash course on the different types of products available and how they can be prepared. They're just customer service-oriented like that. And rumor has it, there may be a full-service restaurant for the duo on the horizon, perhaps in the space next door. We'll keep you posted. Until then, "Namaste!"
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Spice 'N' Curry
123 SW 107th Ave
11 a.m. - 10 p.m., 7 days a week
(305) 226-6377 or firstname.lastname@example.org