Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

An ER Nurse Opened a Curry Up Now Franchise Right Before Covid-19: 'I Couldn't Abandon Either Responsibility. That's Not My Ethics.' Pritesh Benjamin hadn't planned to spend much time in the kitchen, but when business dropped 70 percent overnight, he rolled up his sleeves and got to cooking.

By Stephanie Schomer Edited by Frances Dodds

This story appears in the June 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Courtesy of Pritesh Benjamin

Pritesh Benjamin may have entered the restaurant business, but he had no interest in working in the kitchen. He was an ER nurse looking for a way to create easy additional income, and he thought he'd found the perfect opportunity by becoming a franchisee of the fast-growing Indian street-food chain Curry Up Now. He opened his doors in Hoboken, N.J., in February 2020…and we all know what happened shortly after. When the pandemic began, Benjamin was suddenly juggling a short-staffed kitchen, safety concerns, cautious consumers, and his own hospital shifts. Every expectation he had was upended — but, he says, he was grateful to have the support he needed, and the experience taught him many valuable lessons about running a business.

You originally saw this business as a simple investment opportunity that wouldn't require your constant presence at the restaurant. But that's not what happened.

I wanted to get a staff in place, sit back, and watch over the entire business. This isn't my industry — I work at a hospital — ­and I thought I could just oversee the operation, the analytical part, and the marketing. But 12 days after we opened our doors in 2020, lockdown happened. I couldn't afford a general manager with a high salary at that point. So I rolled up my sleeves, put on a Curry Up Now T-shirt, and got cooking.

Related: 7 Things Restaurant Entrepreneurs Must Do to Survive and Thrive During the Great Pandemic Depression

That must have been quite a shock.

We had our grand opening weeks before, and we did great — the restaurant was packed, the line was out the door, people were calling in to ask for reservations, and I had to explain that we're not that kind of restaurant; we don't take reservations! And then overnight, business dropped 70 percent, and I had 21 people on payroll. We gave people who wanted to work as many hours as we could; others weren't comfortable working.

How were you managing the restaurant while working as an ER nurse in a pandemic?

I have no idea how I managed it. It was exhausting. I would do two days at the ER and then five at the restaurant. I couldn't abandon either responsibility — that's not my ethics.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Pritesh Benjamin

Were you worried about juggling those roles, in terms of safety?

Medical professionals' brains are programmed to prioritize safety, and we have the resources to stay safe. If anything, my team at the restaurant was able to ask an expert how to stay safe throughout the pandemic, and they took my advice and input very seriously.

Related: The New Dining Write-off: Covid Relief Gives You Something to Whet Your Appetite

As we've moved through the pandemic, when did you start to see business pick back up?

I'm still waiting for that moment. I'm doing better this spring than I was last year, but I'm not breaking even yet. The struggle is still there, though we've had very strong support from our franchisor. Curry Up Now is a young, emerging brand, so there's a lot of attention on you as a franchisee.

What's the most helpful piece of guidance you've received from your franchisor?

He told me recently, "Almost anyone can run a successful restaurant. But you need to be a genius to run a struggling restaurant." He has been in this business for 10 years, and he has seen that what you envision and anticipate can change in a single hour. You must be prepared for anything. If you prepped $300 worth of food for the night based on last week's sales and all of a sudden you have $900 worth of business come in, how do you make sure you're ready to meet that demand? It's about always being prepared with a strategy and flexibility.

Stephanie Schomer

Entrepreneur Staff

Deputy Editor

Stephanie Schomer is Entrepreneur magazine's deputy editor. She previously worked at Entertainment WeeklyArchitectural Digest and Fast Company. Follow her on Twitter @stephschomer.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Growing a Business

Want to Expand Your Market Overseas? Here's Everything You Need to Know About Global Logistics in 2024

With rising geopolitical tensions and changing market conditions it can be hard for businesses to navigate supply chain logistics even in a post-pandemic world. Here are three tips from the CEO of an international customs brokerage.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Social Media

How To Start a Youtube Channel: Step-by-Step Guide

YouTube can be a valuable way to grow your audience. If you're ready to create content, read more about starting a business YouTube Channel.

Business News

Elvis Presley's Granddaughter Fights Graceland Foreclosure, Calls Paperwork 'Forgeries'

The 13.8-acre estate was scheduled to be sold in a public foreclosure auction on Thursday. Presley's granddaughter and heir, Riley Keough, is fighting to save Graceland in court.

Business News

Kickstarter Is Opening Up Its Platform to Creators and Making Big Changes to Its Model — Here's What's New

The company noted it is moving beyond traditional crowdfunding and making it easier for businesses to raise more money.