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Spices of Life

Offering a taste of India in a casual setting, these two restaurateurs bring ethnic food to the masses.

Vital Stats: Sushil Malhotra ®, 55, and Rajesh Bhardwaj, 45, of Café Spice

Company: Casual-style restaurants offering Indian cuisine

2005 Projected Sales: Over $12 million

Frugal Foodies
For over 25 years, Malhotra's Indian fine-dining ventures thrived in the New York City restaurant scene. He knew customers enjoyed the food and ambience of his upscale eatery, Dawat, but he believed that, because of the higher price point, "they were happier coming when they were on an expense account." Malhotra resolved to offer authentic regional food, atmosphere and reasonable prices in a more casual setting. Bhardwaj, who had hands-on restaurant experience in both India and New York City, shared his vision.

Hot Plates
Café Spice was created in 1998 to "reintroduce" basic classic Indian dishes. Staples like samosas, chicken tikka masala and saag paneer are among customer favorites. Contemporary designs with spice-like colors provide a sleek atmosphere at the restaurants, where customers of all ethnicities flock to taste the multi-regional fare.

Cultural Explosion
Zaika Flavors, Café Spice's quality control center and commissary, is where all the food is marinated and sauces are started before refrigerated trucks deliver them to the restaurants. When food operators came calling, Zaika spun off into its own business; it now provides food to the Citibank, United Nations and World Bank cafeterias. In addition, Whole Foods grocers purchase 10,000 pounds of food from Zaika Flavors every week.

Campus Cuisine
Café Spice currently has seven locations and is set to open three more by the end of 2005. The company also plans to expand into university towns across the U.S. "[College students] are more educated about the cuisine and more amenable to trying it," says Malhotra. "Demographically, it's a risk-free market-success comes a little faster."

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This article was originally published in the September 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Spices of Life.

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