We talked to: India House
Hi, Alka! Thank you for chatting with us. Could you give us a brief history of India House, and tell us what made you choose Northampton as the location for your restaurant?
Though India House officially opened in 1984, my passion for cooking and my skills began in my childhood, learning from my family members. Omprakash and I had just gotten married and were living in Cambridge at the time, when a friend was having a baby out in Amherst and we decided I would go to visit her and help her out. There I was, only 19 or 20 years old, newly married and excited to meet my friend’s baby. It was peak New England foliage, and I was in awe of the beauty around me as I traveled from Cambridge to Amherst. I spent five days in the Valley, and promptly told my husband I wanted to move here. Omi laughed goodnaturedly at my excitement, and decided to take a drive out here himself. He had been wanting to open a restaurant, and was directed to our building by a very helpful and kind realtor who was determined to help us open our business in Northampton. It was truly meant to be—the universe was calling us to set up our restaurant here.
At the time, I was pregnant with my son Amit, and Omi showed me the place. I fell in love with it as well and decided it should be called India House because I knew right away it was going to be our home away from home. And it has remained that way, all of these years later! I returned to India with Amit for a few months while Omi started the restaurant and quickly realized how in-demand we would be. People were driving from hours away because there was just nothing like this immediately available at that time.
We started with very little money, but a lot of hard work, passion, and skill, and that has seen us through the years. We established an instant connection with this community, and people encouraged us—as they still do—to be creative and expand our offerings. We feel such immense gratitude for the support and outpouring of love we’ve received from our patrons and friends over the years. That kind of support has seen us through wonderful and challenging times alike. As soon as Amit was 6 months old, I was in the kitchen at the restaurant. I like to say that I was born in India, and raised in India House.
Through the many years of cooking and serving others, we have cultivated such a sense of gratitude and love for the people who visit the restaurant, as well as those who have continued to order takeout in the past 2 years when we were not yet open for in-house dining. Feeding others and seeing them enjoy our food and want to return gives us such a sense of optimism and fulfillment. It also reignites a fire within us, over and over again, to continue to challenge myself and be creative with our dishes!
How are things going for the restaurant during these unpredictable times?
You have to say a prayer and be thankful, and try to accept the moment as if you’d chosen it. It helps you process and move forward. Just before lockdown, my husband had surgery and when he returned from Mass General, he had to stay home and recuperate for a month. We realized we could not just shut down, so we discussed what we could do to pivot and keep moving forward.
That’s when we started doing lunch boxes, which gave us a great temporary way to stay connected to our community and still feed them. These experiences honestly bring you to your knees and humble you. It was a scary time, but having some way to help and support others while continuing to maintain our business was huge. After three months, our entire team returned—we could not do it without them. As a family, we wanted to handle things gracefully, no matter what, and stay devoted to what we do as well as to taking care of our team.
What are some challenges you endured, and what are some positive things that you’ve learned/that have come out of the past two years?
For one, our renovation has been an enormous blessing, and we could not have managed it had we been open for in-house dining during the process. Another wonderful thing is that we won a liquor license via lottery, which means we’ve been able to begin serving creative cocktails. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, and now it’s a big selling point for us. Our private gazebo is also wonderful for intimate groups or folks who aren’t ready to dine inside yet.
Staffing remains an issue, but that is true for everyone right now. We know that we’ll get back to a more pre-pandemic spot eventually. We’ve cut our menu down a bit in order to make things more manageable, but we plan to reintroduce some old favorites as soon as possible. Because we source ingredients both locally and from both Boston and New York, we can’t always acquire everything we need all of the time. In order to maintain the integrity of our food, we’d rather wait on certain dishes—though diners might not know that something is missing, we would know, and that would not feel right to us. We won’t compromise on quality or on the dishes we have been making for years.
Other things that have brought us joy in this challenging time are welcoming people back who have not dined with us in a long time. A group of women recently returned and were so filled with joy, they exclaimed, “We all made it!” And we were all able to hug and laugh together. Those are the moments that allow me to go home at the end of the day with a smile on my face.
As business owners, what do you do to unwind/relax/rejuvenate?
On my days off, I go home and cook up a storm. I love to come up with new things—this centers me and brings me happiness. I have been testing a lot of vegan and plant-based dishes at home, so eventually, I want to introduce these new items to the restaurant as well. My mind is always working, and cooking and coming up with new dishes is how I “unwind." I feel like I have come up with some of my best recipes in my sleep!
This isn’t just a job for me, it’s my family life, my social life, and my joy. Serving others brings me such comfort and happiness. And of course, we love spending time together as a family, both at home and within the restaurant. For Omi and myself, being able to work with our children Amit and Anjula is a gift that keeps on giving.
Is there anything you’re excited about regarding the business in upcoming months, from new menu items to restaurant updates?
As usual, we will be serving food at the Paradise City Arts Festival this weekend! We will also have new cocktails to test out on folks, and we also might do Pioneer Valley Food Tours soon. I am also eager to get back to my in-person cooking classes. My style of cooking and teaching is very hands-on and all about connecting in the restaurant, so I’ve missed having that as part of my life.
I also just want to add that I don’t think we should take things for granted. I value the gifts that each of my family members brings to our business. I so appreciate the strength and patience that Omi brings to our restaurant, every day, no matter what. And Amit’s ability to act as a level-headed, expert general manager is essential. Anjula brings such an element of vibrant energy, joy, and a welcoming demeanor to the restaurant. And of course, we could not make it all come together without our phenomenal, dedicated India House team, who helps us serve with courtesy and a smile.
To close, I think we are all still recovering from what we’ve endured, but I am here—thanks to you. And as always, my family is here to feed our community with respect, integrity, and dishes people love. India House has been, and will always be, not just a place to eat, but a destination.