Roni Mazumdar, who now operates three highly regarded Indian-food eateries in New York City, named his company Unapologetic Foods. Hence, he serves Indian food prepared with no apologies that he says is “authentic and honest India food with no flourishes or whimsy,” he says.
In fact, he wondered why so many Indian chefs didn’t stray much from dishes such as chicken tikka masala, which he viewed as a kind of an expected, predictable dish. He described the majority of Indian food presented in the U.S. “as being served with an Americanized approach, including the amount of heavy cream”.
Indeed, Mazumdar currently operates Rahi, Adda Indian Canteen, and in mid-February, opened Dhamaka in Manhattan, all in concert with chef Chintan Pandya. He closed his initial venture, Masalawala, when its lease expired in March 2021. It debuted in 2011 on the Lower East Side, but he plans to reopen it in Park Slope in the fall.
Masalawala was an homage to his father, who was involved in every aspect of its running including developing recipes and guest services.
Mazumdar and Pandya are putting a new spin on Indian food, aiming to be inventive and innovative.
Pete Wells, the New York Times food critic, in a review of several Indian eateries in March 2018, called Rahi “the most exciting food in this group.” Though he did point out that chef Chintan Pandya, “can sometimes follow his creative impulses right over the cliff, but most often, the flavors are vivid and unexpected.” For example, he praised its tandoori skate and Tulsi chicken.
But Mazumdar isn’t resting on his restaurant laurels. He launched Biryani Bol, a delivery-only platform that specializes in offering authentic biranyi.
Mazumdar also partners with various social advocacy groups that feed the hungry including Rethink Foods and Urban Pathways that serves meals to frontline workers and homeless people.
He contends that restaurants are part “of the social fabric of our community and must give back.” His eateries distributed 2,000 boxes of meals a day at the height of the pandemic, in partnership with Rethink Food and World Central Kitchen.
Mazumdar hasn’t always been a restaurateur. When he first opened Maslawala on the Lower East Side, he was still working as a software engineer. But now, he’s a full-time restaurateur.
He joined together with chef Pandya at Rahi in 2017. Their goal was showcasing food that presented a “real voice for Indian cuisine, a voice that is authentic and represents the culture, that isn’t afraid to share the meat on the bone and the fish on the bone with our hands,” Mazumdar explains.
Each of his eateries has taken Indian food, one step, into a new direction. So Mazumdar describes the signature food at Masalawala as Indian street food, Rahi as modern Indian, Adda Indian Canteen as homestyle Indian, and Dhamaka as provincial Indian.
Mazumdar asserts that they’re not trying to reinvent Indian food, as much as, reimagining it. “We’re not recreating it. We’re going backward, unwrapping the unnecessary layers we put on our cuisine.”
To capitalize each new eatery, he has tapped personal funds and has drawn money from private investors.
He and chef Pandya are a close knit, interwoven team. “We collaborate on every aspect. But I know when to get out of the way. In the end, a chef has to find their own voice, the voice of your cuisine, yourself and team members,” he discloses.
He established Biryani Bol as food to be delivered to guests because Indian food, he says, “isn’t just consumed at restaurants but also at home.” This dish is a “meal in a bowl. We do the hard work and you put in an oven and out it comes 40 minutes later.”
The pandemic forced it to “pivot and rely more on delivery. Business, as we know it, didn’t exist,” he explains, because his eateries were primarily dine-in.
He sees the city rebounding gradually from the pandemic and “digging out, though the city hasn’t fully recovered yet. We still need tourists and office workers, but New York will come back, by the end of the year. People have a pent-up desire to experience life as we knew it,” says Mazumdar, who was raised in the Bronx and graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with an engineering degree.
He envisions eventual expansion and has his eyes on opening up new eateries in Philadelphia or Washington, D.C., but admits it could develop in various formats including a fast-casual eatery. Eventually he’d need to turn to private equity or investor funding to reach those goals.
He calls the keys to its future success as “continuing to educate consumers, making sure high-quality ingredients are served, and providing an experiential element which consumers crave.”