TWO-FERS: Two cuisines, two models, one restaurant

635

AURORA | Flexibility is the order of the day at Chai and Chai restaurant on the Anscutz Medical Campus.

The menu boasts both Indian and Jordanian cuisine, and both with a laser-like focus on authenticity. It isn’t some nouveau-fusion sort of restaurant either, just two different menus offering two very distinct forms of food. 

The flexibility from the menu extends to the restaurant’s layout as well. Come in at lunch and Chai and Chai is a standard counter-ordering sort of quick-service restaurant, serving a steady stream of customers from the bustling medical campus that surrounds it. Come dinner time, the restaurant at 12501 E. 17th Ave. converts into a sit-down restaurant. 

“At night everything moves around,” Venu Alla, the restaurant’s owner said as customers strolled to the counter for lunch this week.

The restaurant opened last fall with a focus on just lunch with menus offering cuisine from Alla’s native southern India and middle Eastern cuisine from Jordan, the home country of chef Enas al Khalili. In April, Alla expanded the hours to include dinner. 

Alla, who came to the United States from his native Hyderabad, India, to work in the tech industry, said he was disappointed with the Indian fare he found. Most of the restaurants offered northern Indian food, he said, not the spicy dishes he grew up with.

In a few weeks, Alla said he has a new Indian chef starting who specializes in Hyderabadi dum biryani, a layered rice dish he expects to draw foodies to the restaurant from around the region. But it’s not just Indian food at Chai and Chai. 

After spending eight years in the food business in Jordan, al Khalili came to the United States about 16 months ago. Like Alla, she was disappointed with the Middle Eastern food offered here. When she built the Jordanian menu at Chai and Chai, al Khalili said it was important to her that everything be made with the authentic ingredients she loved. 

“Our butter, our rice, everything — it’s real, Arabic,” she said.

Chai and Chai’s focus on flexibility is a necessity for a restaurant situated in such a unique location, Alla said. 

The Anschutz Medical Campus draws almost 20,000 staffers, teachers and students every day, according to the University of Colorado’s statistics. However, that number dips dramatically on weekends and at night. 

Alla said that precipitous dip in the customer base in the evenings and weekends could be seen as a downside to the business, but he doesn’t look at it that way. 

Instead, Alla said he sees the steady customer base that comes to Anschutz everyday as ripe for his lunch business. Customers can grab a plate of Middle Eastern or Indian food and head back to their office, or pull up a chair at the restaurant. 

“That is the bulk of our business,” he said.  

The hope, Alla said, is that the booming lunch sales will keep business thriving while he builds the dinner market, something that is a bit more difficult on a campus where there isn’t much of a dinner scene. 

So far, in the few weeks they have offered the sit-down dinner menu, Alla said business has been solid despite zero marketing efforts. The customers who come in have all been lured there because they heard from someone else that the food was good, Alla said. 

Alla said as long as the food is good, Alla said he doesn’t think the restaurant will have trouble drawing a dinner crowd. 

“On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, you are willing to go that extra mile for good food,” he said.

That’s already been the case, al Khalili said. 

Customers have already made the trek to Chai and Chai from as far as Colorado Springs or communities in the mountains just to try the cuisine, she said. 

“They just come to eat one plate and go, they enjoy our food,” she said.