New fast-casual restaurant in West Palm Beach seeks to Americanize Indian food like Mexican, Chinese, and Greek
Anesh Bodasing is used to people asking him where he’s from. His family, who are of Indian descent, are seven-generations deep in South Africa. But the 47-year-old entrepreneur and husband of two is from Canada, married to a Colombian, and lives in West Palm Beach.
For Bodasing, cross-cultural experiences are as natural as the Indian spices in his Tiffin Box, the fast-casual restaurant that he says will “bring an American face to Indian food.”
“When you serve a non-Indian person Indian food for the first time, and it’s at the right temperature, it is an extremely multilayered, flavorful food, unlike any other cuisine,” Bodasing said. “And people are blown away.”
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Tiffin Box was around five-months-old when the coronavirus crisis hit. And when most restaurants were shutting down, Bodashing chose to keep his restaurant open. “I’d been waiting 12 years to open a restaurant, and I wasn’t going to let COVID-19 shut it down.” said Bodasing.
The owner-operator says most Indian restaurants are buffets because Americans have a hard time ordering from the complicated names on the menu. His “Americanized Indian Grill,” with its freshly-sourced ingredients, is actually an authentic Indian experience with just a dab of American familiarity.
The classic rock blaring through the speakers coalesce with elephant art, an Indian word collage, and dangling tiffin carriers attached to a red bicycle hoisted on the wall to your left. Observe it. There is a deeper meaning behind it.
The name “Tiffin Box,” Bodasing says, is an ode to the dabbawalas, food delivery men in Mumbai, India, who make one mistake every six million deliveries. They’re considered the world’s best food delivery service.
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Turn back to your right, and a convenient Chipotle-style assembly line greets you with its eco-friendly products and freshly-sourced options – a variety of dishes, like creamy chicken or the shredded lamb in a handheld naan flatbread or bowl, matched with basmati rice, lentils, chickpeas, roasted potatoes, or taggy carrots. (Note to the Covid-wary: This is not a self-serve buffet but a point-and-order line.) Devour a Sweet Wheat (Suji) dessert after your meals.
Bodasing says the idea of a Tiffin Box restaurant had been brewing for over 12 years. And as “life happened,” he finally had a conversation with his supportive wife and decided to “take a shot”
“I’ve always believed that if Indian food was presented in the right way, and with the right atmosphere, anyone would want to try it,” Bodasing said. “And everyone is going to love it.”
It was always Tiffin Box, but it was originally going to be a “swanky, Indian restaurant on Atlantic Ave.” But then it evolved into “a counter-service” ticket, wait and receive, “Panera Bread style” of service. Then it was a food truck, but that didn’t pan out. Finally, a small American joint with “authentic Indian food catering to different spice levels.”
“The only thing Americanized is the menu has been translated into English so anyone can understand what they’re ordering,” Bodasing said.
Who eats at Tiffin Box? Vegetarians. Meat eaters. The health-conscious and cultural explorers.
Bodasing said “the reference point” for most Americans is that Indian food is too spicy. But the cucumber yogurt topped on most of the meals serves as a cooling agent, and “the spice level of Tiffin Box is set at the average taste bud’s limit or just over.” In other words, you have options, and you won’t sacrifice the taste.
“There is a sentence that doesn’t exist. It’s called ‘bland Indian food,’” Bodasing said. “If it’s bland, it ain’t Indian. If it’s Indian, it ain’t bland. There is always going to be some spice and flavor.”
Bodasing says Tiffin Box has cross-cultural and cross-market appeal that would make it a natural for various settings, from college towns to downtowns to kiosks at airports and malls.
“I foresee a lot of Tiffin Boxes. Before the end of the year, we’re going to be starting our franchising process,” Bodasing said. “We’ll be looking to franchise initially in the South Florida area and then we’re going to expand out. It doesn’t take a lot of footprint.”
For now, Bodasing is focusing on his present location, where the doors have remained open for takeout throughout the coronavirus shutdown and initial reopening phase.
“We’ve been open every day since the virus hit,” says Bodasing, who did have to lay off his staff. He has kept the restaurant open with the help of his family. He also added curbside service and expanded online delivery options.
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