Because the world is different these days, Preeti Waas thinks he needs a different kind of restaurant.
She doesn’t call it a restaurant, in fact, it’s an emporium, an all-day space showcasing an ever-changing take on Indian cuisine.
Cheeni Indian Food Emporium will open this month in North Raleigh, a one-of-a-kind food space combining a morning cafe, lunch and dinner venue, teaching kitchen and retail store featuring Indian spices from high quality.
“It’s full of stuff, you never know what you’ll find,” Waas said. “I really like food halls, but that’s not it. We are not several concepts in one. We are a concept that does a lot. We are versatile.
The word emporium fits better than restaurant, Waas said, embracing the spectrum of dining experiences she plans to pack into Cheeni. The new concept has moved to the former Caretta Coffee & Cafe in the Falls River Shopping at 1141 Falls River Ave. Waas was drawn to the location, she said, as a North Raleigh resident herself, who often struggles to find the food she wants to eat. .
“If I want good food, other than American pub, I’m lost,” Waas said.
Waas first opened Cheeni as a coffee counter in the lobby of the YMCA on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. It became a destination for chai and huge toast and other baked goods, eventually expanding to the Alexander Family YMCA on Hillsborough Street.
But the impact of the pandemic on downtown Raleigh hit those cafes hard, initially closing the Fayetteville Street location, while the other remained open. Last month, Waas ended Cheeni’s run at the Alexander YMCA as she made final preparations at the North Raleigh emporium.
Inspired by small restaurants in Spain, Europe and India, Waas imagined the new Cheeni to cater to moments big and small, reflecting the ebbs and flows of the day. Much of the menu will change weekly, offering a fresh reflection of seasonal meals through an Indian lens.
In the In the morning, the menu will consist of coffee, chai and fresh pastries to take away or to sit down and relax for a while.
For lunch, the tandoor oven will be on and the menu will include at least four different types of skewers, such as seasonal vegetables or marinated lamb, charred and draped over homemade naan, topped with pickled onions and ‘aioli.
With Cheeni, Waas hopes to tap into the fast-casual trend of restaurant lunches.
“You have the opportunity to enjoy a full meal that isn’t fast food,” Waas said. “You don’t have to be limited to drive-thrus. The in-between can work.
Dinner will usually feature another side of tandoor and Cheeni, where a menu will include five different courses. This could mean a whole fish covered in a marinade of mint, cilantro, ginger, green chilies and lime juice and cooked until blistered. Or lamb vindaloo, a ubiquitous dish in Indian restaurants of which Waas aims to serve a more authentic version, playing on the Portuguese influence, where the lamb will be marinated in vinegar and hot peppers and spices like cinnamon and cooked in the oven with an onion sauce.
Instead of a set menu, Waas hopes doing fewer dishes each week can contribute to a deeper experience at every meal.
“I have what I would consider a tight menu, it’s not everywhere,” Waas said. “I don’t need to be everything to everyone. The idea of coming to Cheeni is like coming to my house.
‘Saved my life’
Waas has been baking since she was 9, she said, growing up in a family that valued food, including two aunts she called “phenomenal cooks.”
“Our family was kind of a legend in India, you knew if you went to their house you were going to eat well,” Waas said. “You were kind of like a stuffed goose, you ate until you couldn’t eat anymore.”
But Waas said food also played a tense and loaded role in her family, that her father would turn violent if she didn’t prepare food when he came home from work.
“I literally learned to cook to save my life,” Waas said. “Now I want to cook for fun.”
She opened her first restaurant in 2008 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, paying people $9 an hour and serving a pre-service staff meal. Waas said the modest pay rise, compared to many restaurants, as well as the staff meal, were not what workers were used to.
“I insisted that no one could start working until they had eaten,” Waas said. “Apparently it was unusual and innovative, but it makes sense. If someone walks into my space, they can’t be served by someone who isn’t fully focused and they can’t be if he is hungry.
A new model
The new Cheeni will remain a counter service concept, where there are no formal wait staff and meals are ordered and then brought to diners.
“The restaurant model is kind of dead,” Waas said. “The model as we know it is and should be dead.”
If that model is broken, Waas hopes Cheeni can come up with ways to fix those cracks.
Restaurants of all kinds have changed service models over the past two years, some in response to staff shortages. Waas built Cheeni this way, she said, to create a fairer pay structure in the restaurant, eliminating tips and leading to higher wages for workers in the front and back of the restaurant. the House. She said some of the changes during the pandemic have helped the hospitality industry live up to its name.
“That’s what hospitality is,” Waas said of the salary changes. “Not what we are used to here and not what we encouraged in the United States. It’s become obvious to people outside the industry that it’s dragging because that’s what everyone else has been doing. It has become clear how poorly paid restaurant workers are.
Beyond daily menus, Waas plans to create a subscription service within Cheeni, a kind of foodie adventure series. Named the Spice Rack Passport, the membership will have three different tiers, the Saffron Society, Cardamom Club, and Ginger Guild, each with access to special classes, dinners, pop-ups, and themed events, which could include local or visiting cooking demonstrations. cooks.
Waas said the idea and the name of the passport is based on a desire she saw born out of the pandemic, to continue to tap into international cuisines and culture without the ability to travel.
“I learned that what people are really looking for is authenticity,” Waas said.