Cheeni Indian Food Emporium is now open in Raleigh, North Carolina

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Chef and baker Preeti Waas isn’t new to the Raleigh scene — but chances are many have missed the first location of her Cheeni Shop, previously located in two YMCA locations in downtown Raleigh. Inspired by India’s convenience stores, Cheeni offered snacks and teas, attracting a mix of savvy locals seeking its popular masala chai, chili cheese biscuits and toast – and fitness junkies alike. looking for a post-workout smoothie (an addition she added to the menu to cater to demographics).

Although a success, the YMCA locations were not Waas Cheeni’s full vision. Fortunately, the pandemic allowed him to find a bigger space in North Raleigh, allowing him to turn Cheeni Indian Food Emporium into a reality – an all-day cafe with retail space selling books and spices and a demonstration kitchen where Waas will host interactive cooking classes and dinners, as well as guest chefs. “Cheeni is like a Swiss army knife,” she explains – it has many different moving parts and parts.

Retail area at Cheeni Indian Food Emporium.
Photograph by Stacey Sprenz

Blue arch.

Waas searched antique stores for his interiors.
Stacey Sprenz Photography

Calling Cheeni a restaurant would be inaccurate. It’s a portal to the world of Waas: a blend of his upbringing in South India and American culture via food and drink – and a space for guests to explore at their leisure, whether for a morning chai, getting lost in a cozy nook with a book, refueling for lunch, grabbing a quick snack or ready-made dinner, or enjoying dinner with friends.

Waas implements a spice limit to allow the nuances of its food and culture to shine through. “People want to control every part of the process,” Waas says, “They want it to be how they think it should be,” she adds. Waas thinks a lot of people have a misconception that Indian food is always spicy and hot — “it’s either spicy or it’s not,” she says. At Cheeni, Waas plans to change that with educational conversations and classes teaching people how to use spices at home.

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Photograph by Stacey Sprenz

“I think there’s going to be some confusion at Cheeni because people see Indian and they have their perception of what Indian food is,” Waas says. It’s not the Indian food most Americans grew up eating buffet style with chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken and aloo gobi – noting that most of these recipes, when presented at buffets, are simplified because the recipes are very complex and take time.

Waas’ menu is neatly categorized into drinks, tiffin, lunch and dinner, helping people navigate the menu with explanations for each dish or drink. Aloo chaat transports Waas to a crowded bazaar in Delhi, “The vendor carried his entire ‘shop’ on his head and set up shop in the same corner in Karol Bagh,” she says, “He was a staple since my first memories and my entire life in India.

Chicken skewer roll
Photograph by Stacey Sprenz

Hariyali whole fish, rubbed with ginger paste, herbs and green chillies, then skewered and cooked in the tandoor, is a dish Waas is very happy to share with the community. “This dish combines my obsession with seafood with bright, acidic, herb-rich flavors that put me on the outskirts of my hometown – on the beach at the resort town of Fisherman’s Cove,” she says, “For personal reasons, it’s the best fish in my memory The chicken skewer roll is a bit like India’s version of a sandwich (think tandoori-cooked chicken served on freshly cooked naan with achaari mayonnaise and pickled red onions) while the keema pav is like an Indian-style sloppy joe.

Keema Cobblestone
Photograph by Stacey Sprenz

Preeti Waas cooks naans
Photograph by Stacey Sprenz

Waas says she’ll take the time to explain chaat to customers — or why asking for “chai tea” is like asking for “tea tea” and it’s just “chai.” FYI: Its masala chai, made with hand-ground spices and tea, steeped in creamy milk, is so popular that on occasion customers bring in canteens for supplies. Waas hopes to help people see things differently and change the mindset that all Indian food is cheap – and help people seek their “independence from blandness”.

Interior of the Cheeni Indian Food Emporium and food spread
Photograph by Stacey Sprenz

As for the space, Waas spent months browsing through antiques and thrift stores. “I didn’t buy anything new,” she adds. “The shutters and arches were scoured at five different thrift stores, over several months – it was a real labor of love and created the portal effect that I love.” Waas salvaged banquets with vintage fabrics and salvaged vintage photos of Indian street markets and portraits, which seem to have always belonged to the space. “The 200-year-old mirror above the vintage sofa in the café reminds me of how many people have seen their reflection in it,” she adds.

At the end of the day, Waas hopes to share a slice of her India and is excited to bring something new to the Triangle’s ever-growing food scene.

Cheeni Indian Food Emporium is located at 1141 Falls River Avenue, Ste. 124, and is open Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Check Instagram for updates and events.

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