Should you find yourself in Murray Hill craving Indian food, there’s not exactly a shortage of spots to sate your desire–the neighborhood didn’t earn the nickname “Curry Hill” for nothing. But that didn’t stop Paradise Biryani Pointe, the nation’s largest chain of Indian restaurants, from planting its first Manhattan outpost in the area.
The company specializes in Hyderabadi cuisine, which may seem like a niche concept until you consider Paradise Biryani Pointe’s 33 locations in fifteen different state–goat biryani, it seems, is primed for a takeover. And biryani, slow-cooked meats alongside basmati rice, is at the center of the menu: Founder Raj Gowlikar mixes the spices for this dish by hand and distributes it to his location, kind of like Colonel Sanders did in the early days of Kentucky Fried Chicken. “It has to go through my hands. I do it myself,” says Gowlikar on his thirty-spice blend, which has made his restaurant chain a huge hit.
With no formal culinary training, Gowlikar uses a family recipe along with lessons learned in his career as an IT professional to propel himself to the top of the food chain. Employing a strategy that focused on a smaller menu of the best-selling items, he grew the chain from its first outpost in New Jersey and created buzz, particularly within the IT community, for its authentic offerings.
I stopped by to check the new location out and opted for the house specialty chicken hyderabadi, which included coconut milk, clove, cardamon, and a signature spice blend. While I wasn’t familiar with all of the dishes on the list, I got a good perspective on why the restaurant is successful: It offers a combination of dishes with unique ingredients, plenty of vegetarian options, and healthy menu choices (anyone a lentil fan?). Most impressive? The fact that the lunch I ordered cost just over $16, which makes this an affordable and relaxing spot. With a clean look and attentive service, this is the farthest thing from a buffet where it’s every naan for itself.
And Gowlikar has no intention of slowing down his expansion: “With the right locations, you cannot go wrong,” he reflects. He’ll work first to distinguish the chain in Indian restaurant-rich neighborhoods like Murray Hill and Jackson Heights first and then work outward.
Gowlikar is fully confidant that biryani will become mainstream. After all, what fun is paradise if not everyone knows about it?