NoMa residents don't have a ton of options when it comes to after-work happy hour haunts. Next month, they'll get a new one — and in the process, see the debut of a brand new Indian-themed restaurant concept for the region.
That concept is Thaaja Indian Food Bar, which is opening at 1335 2nd St. NE. They've had a "Coming Soon" sign up in the window for awhile, and Eater spoke with founder Shailesh Kumar to find out exactly what they're planning for the spot.
In a nutshell: fast-casual Indian cuisine. Kumar cut his teeth on Wall Street, managing to make it through the financial crisis, and later taking a banking job in Boston. He hated it. Opening a restaurant had been in the back of his mind since college, so he decided to try to figure out where he could introduce a new type of Indian place.
"I think the London Indian scene is kind of a generation ahead - there are a lot more price points, a lot more cheaper options," said Kumar. He wanted to find something that was lunch-friendly, cheap, healthy and accessible, and that's how Thaaja (which means "fresh") came about.
He checked out a few cities before deciding on DC - Boston was too saturated, real-estate wise, Los Angeles was too driver-heavy, and San Francisco had too many regulations. "DC was perfect; it has the New York walking culture, and a lot of people in offices stop out and eat lunch, it's very densely packed in certain areas."
Given the amount of restaurateurs who have tried to be the "Thai Chipotle" or the "Mediterranean Chipotle" lately, the set-up for Thaaja won't be too shocking. Customers pick a protein (chicken, lamb, steak, paneer or tofu), a base (roti wrap, torilla, rice bowl or salad bowl) and a variety of toppings. Thaaja keeps things interesting with its six sauces, ranging from a buffalo-spiked tandoori sauce to a coconut-based curry. They're also developing samosa-like snacks stuffed with filling such as potatoes or chicken tikka, and are playing around with menu items like Indian chips and lassi milk shakes.
Though food is the focus of the new venture, Kumar couldn't resist applying for a liquor license for the NoMa location, giving them an opportunity to offer wines, beers and some liquor so that surrounding office workers can stop in for happy hour. The restaurant will open sometime between Nov. 15 and Nov. 26.
It won't be the last for DC. Kumar's real estate broker, Charlie Papadopoulos, has shown him a few sites in DC, and Kumar would love to open up something downtown or near Barracks Row, and eventually expand out into Arlington. The goal is to have a second location open sometime next year.