CHATHAM, NJ — Once the coronavirus pandemic slowed down business at Sonny Kumar’s former job, he knew it was time to get his own place. After bouncing around from kitchen to kitchen, cooking authentic Indian food, Kumar finally found a home in Chatham for Sonny’s Indian Kitchen.
Kumar cooked and managed for five years at Begum Palace, an Indian restaurant in Madison. The Central India native ended up leaving and announced on Facebook that he’d open a place for homestyle, authentic Indian food.
He credits his mother for teaching him how to cook. Kumar grew up in a vegetarian household. But as a teenager, he began traveling abroad to places such as Hong Kong, England, Australia and west Africa. That’s when he got accustomed to cooking chicken, lamb and goat.
“The concept of using spices is the same whether you’re doing vegetables or meats,” Kumar told Patch. “My basic knowledge of cooking actually did come from my mom.”
Kumar made it clear that he runs a kitchen, not a restaurant. Rather than purchasing products wholesale, he makes them fresh each day. That includes buying whole spices and grinding them up himself.
He considers butter chicken his specialty.
“There are some Indian restaurants that are absolutely incredible, and they are passionate about serving amazing food,” Kumar said. “But most of the Indian restaurants, it’s all copy-paste formula. They follow the same pattern of everything.”
Kumar’s experience in restaurants goes back about 20 years, but 2020 has been like no other. Once Kumar left his job in Madison, he rented out a kitchen at Krauser’s Food Store in Springfield. They let him use a griddle and two-burner stove from 12-4 p.m. each day before orders got delivered during evenings.
In only a month, his business grew so much that he moved to a slightly bigger space in Maplewood. And once demand further grew, he moved operations to the kitchen 4sixty6 — a West Orange party event venue that closed during the lockdown.
But people kept telling Kumar he needed a storefront for people to find him. He found a vacant space while driving down Main Street in Chatham and signed the lease within two weeks. Thursday marked the one-month anniversary since he started cooking at the 225 Main St. facility.
Currently, Sonny’s Indian Kitchen only offers takeout and delivery. People previously had to order online or by phone by 1 p.m. each day. Then Kumar would cook everything and get it delivered for the evening.
But as of Wednesday, he changed the hours to 3-8:30 p.m. from Tuesday through Sunday. People can order online before then but also during the business hours.
In January, he plans to open six days a week from 12-8:30 p.m., offering dinner and lunch for takeout and delivery. And then he’ll expand to outdoor dining in the spring, taking advantage of his huge backyard.
But as the business evolves, Kumar will maintain the same detailed approach.
“Cooking is when you do something from scratch, when you do it on a limited basis every day,” he said. “That’s cooking to me.”
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