Creamy curries, spices and complex flavor pairings. This is what you will find at the extravagant Indian restaurant Masala Times, located in Bleecker St. Owner Hemant Phul and his wife Bhavana are turning New Yorkers on to Mumbai’s best exports: Bollywood and street food. Masala Times is a tribute to everything Bollywood. It is the place for spicy Kebabs and healthy Indian BBQ fares that are very close to those coming out of the tandoor at restaurants around Mumbai.
At Masala Times, you will find an array of barbecue dishes that include baby lamb chops, massive cubes of paneer, and fragrant kebabs of ground chicken that sizzle while you eat it. Their menu also include biryanis, rolls, and pillowy paav bread. A definite must-try is their Tandoori Mushroom – spicy marinated shiitake mushrooms served in a warm, thin roll. If looking something more carnivore, the chicken achari arrives as tangy pieces of charred meat cooked in Indian spices and served with saffron-tinged basmati rice and flatbread fresh off the griddle.
But Masala Times was born out of an unusual idea. In 2009 Phul owned a nightclub in the Meatpacking area while on the lookout for the right venue to open a pure desi kabab place in the city. He wanted for people to taste his menu first, so he started serving late-night foods in his club. And since we’ve all been in that situation, there is nothing better than indulging and sinking your teeth into some juicy street food after hitting the bar all night. They did this to not only test the food but also to see if there was a true opportunity to create something more than simple late-night snacks. People wanted something more satisfying, and so it couldn’t be clearer to them. In 2010, Masala Times opened its door to the public and serves food Friday and Saturday until 5am. Just your perfect solution when going bar hopping around Greenwich Village!
The opening of the restaurant was a big transition for them as the couple was also going into parenthood. The shift from owning a nightclub to a restaurant was a complete different experience but a good one. “Masala, in Indian cuisine, is a combination of spices that gives our food the flavors that it’s known for. However, in Bollywood lingo, Masala defines the essence of what Hindi movies are all about – Bollywood potboilers with melodrama, fight sequences, song-and-dance. This is our tribute everything Bollywood”.
Interesting enough, Phul graduated with an IT degree but realized at the age of twenty-six it was not exciting at all (shocker!). When he was 13 years old, Phul worked as a busboy and then climbed the ladder to chef and now restaurant consultant. He went through the whole spectrum to obtain as much as experience to teach others what he had never been taught. This is why the food and business part is all handled by him. His wife Bhavana, on the other hand, is a graphic designer who performed all the creative side of the restaurant. From the Bollywood signs, to the color of the walls, to the light decor – everything reflects the quintessential Bollywood ambience.
Since Masala Times is now on to its 9th year, the owners were able to share the hardest part of the business to control – the staff. To consistently meet customer demand is a very hard task for restaurant managers. They need to train employees to value and offer a level of customer service appropriate to the level of food provided. In addition, they have to deal with distinct learning styles, the continual influx of inexperienced personnel, and the unpredictable amount of customers eating each day. It is extremely important that if you want to remain competitive, managers need to train employees to be just as passionate as they are with the food served so quality is not missed.
If there is consistency, people will come back and be excited to try new menu items. “Fortunately, we have created a community of customers that love our food. Our customers always say to us that even after eating in so many fancy restaurants they keep coming back to us as it transports them to either the streets in India and or to a home-cooked meal”.
Masala Times offers a selection of dishes that vary from Northern India to Kebabs. It is also very contemporary, keeping up to date with the most popular dishes they know not only their Indian clientele will enjoy but also immigrant one. Masala Times has changed the consumer mindset by making us crave Indian food during the latest times of the night instead of a double cheeseburger from McDonalds. Hemant and Bhavana are very enthusiastic about their future with Masala Times and are not afraid of taking more risks. A lesson that many young entrepreneurs are trying to follow…