This November marks six years since Manoj Kumar and Deepika Dhawan signed the lease for the building which would eventually become home to India House.
The couple never meant to open a restaurant in Wenatchee. In fact, they stumbled upon their current location, 105 S. Wenatchee Ave., by accident. They had originally gone to scope out a place in Yakima to open a new restaurant, but when that spot didn’t pan out, they decided to head home to Kingston, Wash.
“We left there and it was a dark and very rainy day and we lost our signal,” Dhawan said.
Driving home, they accidentally took the wrong route home and ended up in Wenatchee for the night.
“In the morning when we woke up, as we had a craving to have our chai, we figured out they have no Indian restaurants here,” she said.
They walked past the front door of their current location as a sign was being put in the window. They said the landlord asked to see their recipes, and visited their old restaurant in Port Townsend to eat. Impressed, he welcomed them to open up shop in Wenatchee. They opened their doors on April 1, 2013, becoming Wenatchee’s only Indian food restaurant.
The owners are both from northern India, specifically the state of Punjab, which is famous for its agriculture and cuisine.
The food they serve at India House is authentic northern Indian dishes, including curry, biryani (a mixed rice dish) and tandoori-style dishes (traditionally cooked in a clay oven). They also offer Indian appetizers like naan and samosas and desserts of gulab jamun (fried dough), rice pudding, and more.
Kumar said that many customers already liked Indian food when they first opened, but they still educate some customers about what’s in their dishes.
“A lot of people know about the Indian food,” he said. “But a lot of people, we have to to tell them what it is and what the spices are and why the Indian food is popular and very healthy.”
Their dishes use dozens herbs and spices, including ingredients praised for their health benefits, like tumeric, ginger and garlic.
Kumar said their customers are their best advertising, bringing in friends to try their food the first time.
“That’s the best advertisement for the reputation of the restaurant, if the customer likes the food,” Kumar said. “We feel really good about that.”
They developed the menu together, but Dhawan is the head chef at India House.
“These recipes are my recipes,” Dhawan said. “They are all recipes I got from my dad, actually, because my dad is a really good chef. Not a chef, but he cooks at home, but he was the one who encouraged me to cook all the time. That’s why I’m here now, I must say, because of my dad.”
She said she first learned to cook at home when she was 13. By age 15, she was cooking for groups of 20 or 30 at her family’s home. Even now, she cooks for her husband and three daughters every day.
“I just love to play with the spices, it’s my passion,” she said. “I always want to make something different, that nobody’s had before.”
Dhawan said one of their biggest challenges at the restaurant is accomodating the dietary needs of all of their customers. But she said their menu is well-equipped to handle the needs of vegan, vegetarians, gluten-free customers and others.
“It’s not a big issue for us, because we make fresh food on the spot,” she said.
Kumar and Dhawan hope that when people visit them, they feel like guests. Customers are likely to be greeted by one of them, since both work at the restaurant Tuesday through Sunday.
“First of all, when people step inside, they should feel like that’s home, not a restaurant,” Dhawan said.
“It’s a family place,” Kumar added.
They encourage their employees to think of customers that way as well.
“We normally say to our employees, ‘Do not think that they are customers, think that they are your own family.’ If you think that way, you’ll never make any mistakes. But if you do, they’ll forgive you very quickly,” Dhawan said. “They just care that you pay good attention and that you give 100 percent.”
More and more, Kumar said they’re supporting local nonprofits with fundraisers and benefits, including buffets with profits going toward local charities.
“We are starting to do fundraising events. It’s time to support our community,” Kumar said. “This is the best way. You are donating something and also enjoying the meal.”
Kumar and Dhawan said that over the past five a half years the restaurant has been open, they’ve been made to feel welcome by their customers.
“We are doing good, the community is supporting us very nicely,” Kumar said.
Dhawan said that, although they have Seattle-based customers ask them to open a restaurant on the west side of the mountains, they have no plans to leave.
“I feel a really good connection to Wenatchee… We don’t want to move anywhere,” Dhawan said. “It’s like we are in a family now.”