satish kumar, owner of house of india photo by virginia harold

Words of wisdom from House of India's Satish Kumar

House of India is this year’s Readers’ Choice Favorite Indian. The local institution’s many regulars might be surprised to hear that owner Satish Kumar never wanted to open a restaurant. Both his father and grandfather ran restaurants in India, but when Kumar left everything and moved alone to the U.S. at age 24, he wanted something different. His positive outlook has seen him through countless changed plans, running a restaurant for a quarter century, and now it is seeing him and House of India through the coronavirus pandemic.

“We celebrated 25 years in business this December. It was a big achievement – not too many restaurants make 25 years, you know. For me, all 25 years, it’s all meant to be. You don’t know where you’re going – we never wanted to come to St. Louis, and then it happened. Never thought of staying 25 years, but every day is a blessing. … I never wanted to open the restaurant, but I just love it now. I like it – what life has given me. I have no regrets.”

“My grandfather had a dhaba – that’s a street-side restaurant right on the main roads. You don’t have a big menu there, you have like four or five items you make every day and sell. At that time there were no ACs, and it used to be open – there were walls, but the whole thing was like a patio.”

“My dad always wanted me to go and do something different – go to college and do something. But I landed in the same business, you know. I always say whatever is meant to be, it’s going to come whether you like it or not. It just comes to you, and if you accept it happily, you live happily forever.”

“Which Wich, we opened in 2015. We wanted to see a franchise, hoping it could help us later; wanted to see how it works, how easy it is and all that. And now we know – it’s not that easy. The restaurant industry itself is not easy, to be honest.”

“Going forward with my kids, I don’t want them to join [the restaurant]. I want them to go and study first, whatever they like, and work outside in different fields, see life by working themselves. After that, if they want to come and join, they’re more than welcome.”

“My dad felt really good [about me opening a restaurant]. He was very proud and he was very happy. He’s no longer here but, before he passed, he visited us twice and stayed with us months and months. He used to come and help and peel onions and all that stuff with me.”

dishes from house of india // photo by virginia harold

“The kids can’t go out anywhere and meet their friends, so they are also at home. It’s a beautiful time with the family I think, in one way. … I have heard from a lot of my friends, they got so much time with their family, which they never had before. I think we were running a lot. Life was too fast. Before COVID, people were stressed out – it’s not just now. So it’s time to take some naps. Life will be back again. We’ll be running again once it’s over.”

“Are we losing money? Yeah. But we will make money again, you know. So I’m not worried about losing or winning. It’s part of life – take it the way it comes and enjoy the other things, which we were not enjoying before.”

“I generally tell people [to order] vegetarian because every vegetarian dish is different. Chicken curry, chicken karahi, chicken tikka masala – it might be a little bit of different cooking, but chicken is chicken. But okra is different than eggplant; eggplant is different than lentils. So I tell them, if they don’t know, close your eyes and pick one vegetarian dish and it will be good.”

“Feeling good during the bad times is more important than feeling good during the happy times. … A little yoga and a little meditation. When you do that, it’s a software. If you just keep on applying the good things, it will stay in the mind. Our mind is attracted by a lot of negative things. Negativity spreads a lot quicker than the positive things. It’s just applying the good things – if we buy a software for our computer, if we don’t put that in the computer, it’s no help. It’s just a piece of plastic. But once we put it in the computer and we apply, we get more functions out of it. So any good things which we come across, which we hear or which we read – if you apply it, that’s the key to success.”

“If we don’t have a dishwasher for today, I can crib all day or I can ask other employees to come and help and give them an extra few bucks. It gets done and the day is over and the next day the dishwasher comes. So you take every day as a new day and you don’t try to remember the [bad] things from previous days.”

“I like to entertain the guests. I have learned all the parts of the business in 25 years, but I like most to be with the guests. And people appreciate that, you know. People appreciate if I’m there and I go to every table and spend a minute, two minutes with them and find out how they are doing and how is the food and everything.”

“Our retention is like five years, I would say, which is good. So they know [customers’] names and everything. That’s a good thing! If I’m eating chicken tikka masala every day, they know and they will just go ahead and put the order in with the kitchen. You don’t get that everywhere.”