U.S. Restaurants Screwed; Steepest Fall in 28 Years; Indian Restaurants Collapsing

Boy, these are hard times for restaurants in the U.S., particularly for Indian restaurants that are starting to see long and dark shadows fall over them.

Real hard times, folks.

Market researcher NPD has just put out a report that traffic for casual dining restaurants in the U.S. declined 4% in this year’s spring quarter ending May 2009 compared to the same period last year while total restaurant traffic fell 2.6% for the spring quarter, the sharpest decline in traffic since 1981.

Even fast food restaurants have not been immune to the recession and are seeing a 2% decline in traffic.

NPD reports that the decline is across the board, meaning that traffic is down for all of main categories of restaurants i.e fast food, casual dining and mid-scale and down for all meal occasions – morning meal, lunch and supper.

Apparently, restaurant owners’ misery is keeping pace with the unemployment. No surprise, indeed.

NPD is not the only one talking gloom and doom.

Last week, Zagat said pretty much the same thing in its survey finding that more New Yorkers are cooking and entertaining at home. Zagat reported that of the 6,807 New York foodies who responded to its survey, 61% said they are cooking at home more since the economic downturn, and 56% are entertaining less outside the home.

Indian Restaurants – Blood On the Ground
Folks, we see a carnage ahead for Indian restaurants in the U.S.

We are already starting to see smaller crowds in some of the Indian restaurants we visit.

But then most Indian restaurants in the U.S. are pathetic pieces of shit that have no business calling themselves restaurants in the first place.

We know of at least four Indian restaurants that have closed in New Jersey in recent times: Tanjore, Malabar, Vasanta Bhavan and Chennai Ponnusamy.

Tanjore in North Brunswick was a decent restaurant that we’ve visited on a few occasions. We enjoyed our meal at Chennai Ponnusamy too. Malabar in Piscataway was a restaurant that we’d been planning to visit for quite some time and when we finally did recently the place was closed. As for Vasanta Bhavan in Hamilton, we’re surprised it even lasted this long.

By our reckoning, the next shoe to drop will be New York Indian restaurants.

In fact, the blood bath for NYC Indian restaurants may have already begun.

Satinder Sharma: Feeling the Heat

A short while ago when we called Bombay Grill and Purima, both NYC restaurants that we’ve dined at to different degrees of pleasure, we got a recorded message that the telephone lines have been ‘temporarily disconnected.’ Go figure.

With their high rents, low traffic, mostly poor hygiene and usually crappy food, NYC Indian restaurants will likely pay a very heavy price. Don’t be surprised if you hear 12 months from now that more than a dozen of them have disappeared.

In what seemed like a desperate move, recently the manager at one of New York City’s most prominent Indian restaurants called us and asked about advertising on our sites. When we told the bloke in passing that even if he advertised we would not remove his restaurant review the fellow never called back.

The same bloke even had a Tamil speaking person of Indian origin (now living in the Far East) call us one night in an obvious bid to influence us in removing posts related to his NYC restaurant. Desperate times call for desperate measures, eh?

Satinder Sharma, partner in the two Brick Lane Curry restaurants in NYC, is feeling the heat not just from his Tandoor ovens but from the impact on the bottomline as well:

I’m seeing close to 20%-25% decline from my gross, which kind of wipes out the bottomline. We’re hanging in there and hoping the worst is over.

Sharma bemoans the loss of the huge chunk of his South Asian clientele who have moved back because they lost their jobs in NYC.

While Sharma is confident that he can ride out the recession because his restaurants are an ‘existing brand,’ he’s heard of eight to 10 NYC Indian restaurants or ‘may be more’ that are on the market:

They can’t sell because there are no buyers.

Recession or no recession, Sharma has recently opened two Paratha Junction restaurants in New Jersey (Franklin Park and Jersey City) that are also showing ‘small minus figures’ but reckons it’s still early days for them.

Sharma told us he’s heard that two restaurants near his Paratha Junction outpost in Jersey City are also looking for buyers.

The dark shadows are not falling over Indian restaurants in NYC or New Jersey alone.

When we were in Virginia over the weekend, we tried calling Ruchi in Sterling to get directions but found the number had been disconnected.

We do not share Sharma’s optimism that the storm has passed. That’s wishful thinking because the economic climate is worsening except for a privileged few.

Au contraire, we are certain more Indian restaurants in the U.S. will die.

But shed no tears.

Most Indian restaurants in the U.S. deserve to die because these bastard offspring did not deserve to be born in the first place (a lot of these restaurants are no more than ugly impostors and shameless rip-off artists serving some of the sickest food and doling out the ugliest service, particularly to desi diners).

God willing, only the best will survive this carnage.

10 Responses to "U.S. Restaurants Screwed; Steepest Fall in 28 Years; Indian Restaurants Collapsing"

  1. boopalanj   July 21, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Ginger chicken and Garlic Chicken from Ponnusamy was good when I had at Chennai.

    Btw, Amaravathi at Chennai [andhra food] is lovely [and spicy too]. [For the same Ginger chicken..]

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    Alas, the Ponnusamy here has shut its doors.

  2. shuaib68   July 22, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Hey SI: Sometime ago you have asked me about the Sri Lankan food in another post. I could not give you a reply on that. Sri Lankan food is almost spicy and hot. There are many varieties coming from many ethnicities. Sinhala Food is very tasty and hotstuff. Muslim food is slightly hot and tasty and loved by all communities. Tamil food is same as south indian. But, we have unique stuff called “Puttu” and Idi Appam. Even Prabha (LTTE) loves puttu (it was reported in a news item.

    I give below a link where you can try yourself the Sri Lankan stuff. It won’t disappoint you.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    Thanks. We love spicy & hot food. Drooling, salivating….ah.

    Sigiri has a branch in Edison (home of a thousand Indian restaurants) too.

    We’ll try the Beef cutlets, if they’re available. Sigiri’s menu says Beef Cutlets may not always be available.

    Interestingly, both locations of Sigiri (NY & NJ) are close to other Indian restaurants. E.6th St area in Manhattan is home to plenty of Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants (Gandhi, Brick Lane, Banjara, Angon on the Sixth, Haveli, Madras Cafe, Taj Mahal, Rose of India et al). As for Edison in NJ, we can’t keep track of the Indian restaurants coming and going.

    Bottom line, Sigiri’s strategy seems to be attract diners that are interested in Indian cuisine.

    Back in India, we used to have Ceylon Parotas at the Kerala restaurants. Wonder if they’re really from Ceylon/Sri Lanka.

  3. shuaib68   July 22, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Hey try my recommendations if you can, these are my favourites:
    1.Gothamba Roti (2 Roti – Vege or Beef)
    Elasticated doughy pancake filled with potato, scallion,
    beef and Sri Lankan spices.
    2.Fish Cutlet (4pcs)
    Breaded, deep fried fish and potato cutlets.

    3.Beef Cutlets (4pcs) (When Available)

    4.Beef Patties (4pcs) (When Available)

    Chicken Mulligatawny (in Tamil it’s called Molagu(BlackPepper)-thanni/Muslim)
    A slow simmered broth with Chicken, Vegetables,
    Sri Lankan spices and Coconut Milk.

    Main Courses:
    1.Chicken Biriyani (This is very different from the Indian stuff and tasty in a unique way- if authentic)
    An aromatic combination of saffron and herb
    flavored basmati rice, chicken and vegetables.

    2. String Hopper Kotthu (Muslim/Best & Popular in SL)
    A Sri Lankan street-side specialty prepared from
    spaghetti-like strings of rice-flour dough squeezed
    through a sieve onto smallwoven trays, which are
    steamed to perfection,chopped into shreds, stir fried
    with vegetables, onions, and egg. With choice of beef
    or chicken.

    3. Kotthu Roti (Muslim/one of the famous in SL)
    A Sri Lankan street-side specialty prepared
    from elasticated doughy pancake chopped
    into shreds, stir fried with vegetables, onions,
    egg. With choice of beef or chicken.

    1.SRI LANKAN CRAB CURRY /Sinhala(Your Saliva will shoot like a cruise missile)

    2.MIXED SEAFOOD DEVILLE/Sinhala – Negombo Style (Shooting Saliva-stuff)

    3.Dry Fish Curry-Beduma(Fry)/Sinhala

    Bread & Rice stuff:
    Pol Roti (Coconut Roti)
    Pan grilled flat bread with fresh grated coconut, onion
    and mild chili. (includes: 4 roti with * onion sambol).

    Aapa (aap-pa ~ Hoppers)
    Wafer thin, bowl-shaped pancakes made from a fermented batter of rice flour and coconut milk (includes: 3 plain
    hoppers and 1 egg hopper with a choice of *sautéed
    onion sambol or *coconut sambol).

    Indi Aappa (indhi aap-pa ~ String Hoppers)
    Spaghetti-like strings of rice-flour dough squeezed
    through a sieve onto small woven trays, which are
    steamed to perfection. (includes: 10 string hoppers
    served with coconut gravy and a choice of *sautéed
    onion sambol or *coconut sambol).

    Pittu (pit-tu)
    Pittu is a mixture of fresh rice meal, very lightly
    roasted and mixed with fresh grated coconut,
    and steamed in a bamboo mould.
    (Served with fresh coconut milk and *onion sambol).

    Wattalapam (Muslim) (Bloody good stuff)

    Enough, enough…I can’t gulp anymore saliva myself…

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    We will at least some of the above recommendations one of these days (hopefully soon).

    Hey, they don’t have Ceylon Parotas. Maybe, you get Ceylon Parotas only in India. 😉

  4. shuaib68   July 22, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    SI:Hey, they don’t have Ceylon Parotas. Maybe, you get Ceylon Parotas only in India.

    You are talking about a stolen identity property/ someone in the US has registered rights for it…(haa,haa)

    I too wonder why it’s not mentioned anywhere in their menu. The koththu roti is a close variety of the Ceylon Parota family.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    We used to have Ceylon Parotas with that watery gravy in India. Loved it.

  5. Albert Camus   July 22, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    shuaib bhai, thanks for splitting up Mulligatawny (molagu thanni) for me.. i used to have a tough time remembering it.

    http://www.bananaleaf-usa.com/ used to serve something that resembled Ceylon Parotta.. a very good restaurant. it was verrrrrry crowded during the IT boom days.. not sure about now.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    We haven’t been to Banana Leaf in Milpitas but been to one of the earlier avatars of NYC Banana Leaf.

    BTW, there’s a small South Indian take-out place called Sri Ganesh/Satya Sweets in Milpitas. Nice vegetarian food.

  6. shuaib68   July 22, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    To Albert Camus: you’re welcome.

    I have seen in few restaurants in Sri Lanka where they’ve named it as MALGATAWNEY which is actually the “Molagu-Thanni”. Once, I ordered and after tasting it I started to laugh at the way it was anglicised.

    We know it’s none other than our dear molagu-thanni. My mother used make it 200% hot(taste) when we suffer from cold/flu to get sore throat relieved. You have to get a cold to enjoy the soothing effect it gives to your throat when it consumed at high degree hot(temperature).


    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    1. You write: Once, I ordered and after tasting it I started to laugh at the way it was anglicised.

    Here are a few other English words of Tamil origin.

    2. We used to/still drink Kashayam for relief from cold/sore throat.

  7. scout   July 22, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    I think indhi aappa & pittu are actually variations of Keralite food – puttu & idi appam. They are very popular among Keralites.
    & they are not unique to Sri Lanka.

  8. shuaib68   July 23, 2009 at 10:23 am

    @Scout:I think indhi aappa & pittu are actually variations of Keralite food – puttu & idi appam. They are very popular among Keralites.
    & they are not unique to Sri Lanka.

    Yeah, you may be right. There’s a lot of cultural influences from Kerala into sinhala’s culture. Their way of traditional dress and the religious customs have lot in common with Kerala. Sinhala’s have a religious procession called “Kandy Dalada Perahera” pagent. It has lot of similarities with kerala cultural functions with elephants and dancers.


    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    We’ve met a few Tamils of Sri Lankan origin here and we felt their Tamil had a Malayalam accent.

  9. NicoleJo   July 24, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Hey! I’ve just found your blog today through http://mormonmidrashim.blogspot.com/ and have really enjoyed reading a bit.

    This particular post really sparked my attention because my husband and I LOVE Indian food. So two questions. Do you have any Indian restaurant recommendations for Pittsburgh, PA? And secondly, we love it so much we want to start learning how to cook a little Indian ourselves. (Possible?) We can make an edible yellow curry, but that’s it. So second question, do you have any recipe website recommendations?

    SearchIndia.com Responds (via iPhone):

    You may want to visit our sister site http://www.pittsburghindia.com for Indian restaurant reviews in the city.

    Also check out the Balaji temple on weekends. They have a small canteen serving vegetarian food.

  10. fugitive143   September 22, 2009 at 2:09 am

    soon after I read the title I was reminded of Tanjore…that one was close to where I live and a place which had food just like my mom’s…

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    Tanjore on RT-1 near Regal Commerce theatre was a decent Indian restaurant. We got an e-mail a few months back from the owner stating that the depressed economy had forced its closure.

    But so many other Indian restaurants have not closed. Some restaurateurs like NYC Brick Lane’s Satinder Sharma are expanding into NJ.

    Indian restaurants are notoriously weak in spreading the word on their restaurants i.e. advertising. So, at the first sign of strong headwinds, they are forced to pull down the shutters.

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