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Satish Kumar never wanted to open a restaurant. His father and his grandfather both had restaurants back home in Jalandhar, a city in northern India’s state of Punjab, and he wanted to do something else than what his family had done before him. But it was in his genes, he says. Now, Kumar is celebrating a quarter of a century with a restaurant that continues to share his family’s cuisine with University City, Missouri.
House of India opened its doors on Delmar Boulevard on Dec. 29, 1994. Kumar moved to St. Louis from Chicago to open the restaurant with two partners; in 2006, he became the sole owner. Kumar originally had no intention of coming to St. Louis to open a restaurant; he knew he didn’t want to open one in Chicago, so he looked in other cities, including Indianapolis and St. Louis. But the St. Louis location was perfect. Aross the street at the time was the original Mai Lee, and Kumar and his partners watched its success. Plus, the landlord said that he would help to take care of them. So, House of India was born.
“We were just blessed here, to be in this part of the town,” he says.
House of India’s menu primarily focuses on northern Indian cuisine, and while you will find a lot of curries, they don’t dominate the menu. Kumar says that today, 40 percent of people probably still only think of Indian cuisines as curries that are hot and spicy, but that’s just not true. His food is a bit milder than what you would find in India, because Americans tend to like it that way. But although some of the heat may be turned down, the flavors are not; Kumar assures that a blend of spices bring the right amount of flavor to each dish.
Over time, customer’s favorite dishes have stayed pretty much the same. Kumar says that if he ever leaves out chicken tikka masala or vegetable korma from the lunch buffet, he hears about it from the customers.
“They just freak out,” he says.
Some of Kumar’s favorite dishes are often overlooked by customers. In particular, he recommends the okra, found in the bhindi masala with fresh tomatoes, onions, ginger and herbs, or the chicken ginger kabab, a Tandoori dish with tender cubes of chicken marinated in ginger, yogurt, herbs and spices and then grilled and served on a bed of onions and bell pepper.
Even though the restaurant has been a mainstay for decades, Kumar says it hasn’t been without hardships.
“It’s a very tough business,” he says. “It’s very challenging. Every day is a challenge.”
But he says that, because of that, it’s a blessing to continue.
“If somebody every day comes and says some positive words for me and for House of India, I think that counts more than anything else,” he says.
When it comes to the food, the restaurant and the customers that he has met and developed relationships with over the years, Kumar says that it is a true love. Not only has he raised his own two children in the restaurant, but he has seen people meet, get married, have kids and then watched those kids grow up.
“I think it was a very beautiful journey,” he says. “They are a part of [our] family now. I don’t even say guests. It’s a big family.”
House of India will be celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special dinner buffet on Sat. Dec. 28 and Sun. Dec. 29 for $17.95 a person. Reservations are recommended.
House of India, 8501 Delmar Blvd., University City, Missouri, 314.567.6850, hoistl.com