By Tyler Kieslich
There is a war going on in Clifton, Ohio. Amid a quiet little college town a battle is being fought out on the uneven pavement of Calhoun Street, threatening the honor of an ancient and once proud family. Brother stands against brother. Father stands against son. The carnage can only be described, on a scale of one to six, at least a five.
Mostly, it’s all about chicken vindaloo.
It was late November and I was sitting in a booth in an Indian restaurant called New India. It’s a dingy and dark and generally depressing place, and most of patrons just look sad and shovel brown food down their throats. The only sound came from the rattling of forks and the occasional chime of a bell that went off every time someone opened the door. That is, until someone barged in and started yelling in a language I didn’t understand. I looked over to the guy behind the register, who was tall and dark and maybe 25 years old. He looked bewildered for a second before he started yelling back, but the other guy was out the door before he could finish. The man behind the register seemed to look through the window at the other guy walking away before finally he just broke down and started crying. I looked around to find that everybody
in the place seemed to have cleared, leaving me and this guy that had only 10 minutes prior served me a big steaming plate of chicken vindaloo.
“You ok, man?” I said to him. I was only being polite. But then he started spilling his guts to me, this guy that I didn’t know, and his story goes something like this.
Amandeep Singh spent his childhood working for his father in the kitchens of the various Indian restaurants he owned. When Amandeep was about 13 his father bought a small storefront about a block from the University of Cincinnati. They called it Krishna, and the restaurant soon found itself a staple among college students looking for a quick fix of tandoori or tiki masala. For years Krishna ruled the local ethnic take-out scene without any real competition, and Amandeep’s father did very well for himself.
But Amandeep couldn’t stand the place. It was tiny, so much so that it was impossible for two people to stand side by side and walk from the register to the door. The kitchen was hot and it smelled like burnt curry powder, and every night before closing Amandeep had to clean it under the watchful and tyrannical eye of his father. Amandeep resented the fact that his brother,
Balan, got to stay out front and talk to customers while he had to do all the dirty work in the back. But most of all Amandeep couldn’t stand his father’s vindaloo recipe. He thought it was too watery and too tangy, and every time he tried to sneak in an extra pinch of chili powder his father would scold him and make him clean the bathroom.
So, one day, Amandeep left.
He bought a place directly across the street from Krishna and started up a new restaurant he called New India. There was room to breathe and the smell was much more pleasant, but mostly the vindaloo was a lot thicker. In plain sight of the prison of his youth Amandeep began making a splash with the local college students. His competitive prices and spicy recipies were a big hit, but his father was still able to keep his throne as king of Indian food in Cincinnati. But not for long. Amandeep began giving away free naan with every meal. To his father, it was as good as a chimta in the back.
Soon Krishna began losing business to New India. The long lines that had been part of Krishna’s lunchtime tradition were suddenly a thing of the past. His father could look out the window and see huge crowds over at Amandeep’s place, and that infuriated him. Backed in a corner, Amandeep’s father did something he had not done in his 30 years in the restaurant business. He started a marketing campaign. Flyers were quickly posted throughout the city that said things like “Stick with the best,” and “Krishna will never grow old.”
Amandeep did not miss a beat. He started a marketing campaign of his own, distributing flyers that advertised a $3.95 lunch special and a promise to “never back down from competition.” This is when Amandeep’s father had had enough. He disowned his son, cutting him off from all family functions. He shut off his cell phone. He kicked him out of an apartment he shared with Balan.
Not wanting to compromise his relationship with his family, Amandeep returned to Krishna to make up with his father. But his father refused to look at him.
“You are a traitor and a disgrace!”Balan told him. “If you want back in this family you have to come back and work for us!”
Amandeep was devastated, but refused to give up his successful business to appease a stubborn father. To this day the war ravages on.
When he was finished with his story, he told me that the food was on the house and then he disappeared to somewhere in the back of the restaurant. I left that day knowing that I would never take my $3.95 lunch special for granted again.
This all being said, the vindaloo is a lot better when it’s spicy. And free naan is always nice.