Tikkaway Grill, which many students and city residents dub New Haven’s “Chipotle of Indian food,” got one small step closer to national ubiquity Wednesday morning when owner Gopi Nair announced that he will open a second Elm City location within a few weeks.
The new shop, located at 2 Howe St. near Yale-New Haven Hospital, will operate like the existing Tikkaway on Orange Street: customers choose a salad, rice or roti roll and add their choice of meat, vegetables and sauces. The restaurant has attracted a devoted following since it opened in August 2013 and now claims the top spot on New Haven’s Yelp page.
Nair, who cites as inspirations Henry Ford, Subway founder Fred DeLuca and McDonald’s Corporation founder Ray Kroc, said he will explore other expansion opportunities, but is focused for now on ensuring the second Tikkaway is as successful as the first. He said he hopes the new location, about a mile from the Orange Street store, will give hospital workers a healthy option for lunch or an afternoon meal.
“The intent is to make Indian food accessible, approachable [and] easy to understand,” Nair said.
After helping operate restaurants in India, Nair immigrated to the United States in 2001 to pursue an MBA at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Prior to opening Tikkaway, he worked in Norwalk. Conn. as managing partner at the Coromandel Group of Indian restaurants. Nair said it took him six years to craft the concept for Tikkaway, including designing the restaurant’s brand and developing the recipes. Though the fast-casual style of the restaurant is recognizable to diners who have embraced chains like Chipotle and Panera, Nair and several customers said that the cuisine itself is less familiar.
Tikkaway is among the first restaurants of its type in the country. Toronto and the San Francisco Bay Area are each home to a fast-casual Indian chain, and New York City has a few takeaway Indian restaurants. But the concept has yet to fully take off.
Nair said he believes Tikkaway could be a “game-changer” to catalyze Americans’ interest in Indian food, adding that the restaurant serves as a way for people to get comfortable with new flavors.
“My thought process is, if I do this right, and I do well, the standard Indian restaurant will benefit in the long run,” Nair said.
Hospital employee Orville Abbott said he had never been to Tikkaway but that he would consider trying the new restaurant, particularly since many of the food trucks near the hospital stop serving in the winter.
He noted, however, that the location could present problems, considering there is not much parking near the hospital, and few employees walk along Tikkaway’s new block.
Navjot Kaur and Mansoor Ahmed, post-doctoral researchers at Yale-New Haven, saw Nair’s announcement on Facebook and made a special trip over to 2 Howe St. to check out the restaurant. They were disappointed that, for now, the only resemblance it bears to the Orange Street location is a few brightly colored signs.
“I can’t count the number of times I’ve eaten there,” Ahmed said of the original location. “Maybe 50.”
They said that, when the restaurant opens, it will likely become a frequent lunch break destination.
Yale undergraduate fans of Tikkaway also said they were excited to hear that New Haven will have a second location, though many said the Orange Street store, about a mile from 2 Howe St., is more convenient.
Lily Sawyer-Kaplan ’17 said she appreciates that Tikkaway provides a “Chipotle-like option” in a city filled with more upscale Indian restaurants, like Zaroka and India Palace.
“It’s good to have a range in terms of affordability and style,” Sawyer-Kaplan said.
Anirudh Sivaram ’15 said he now often eats at Tikkaway over Panera or Tomatillo, but still opts occasionally for meals at sit-down Indian restaurants in the area as well.
Ram Shrestha, the owner of Zaroka, said that he has not been to Tikkaway but has heard of it. Since Zaroka opened 14 years ago, Shrestha said, he has noticed Indian food becoming more popular but is not concerned about additional competition among New Haven Indian restaurants.
“Everybody is doing good,” Shrestha said. “That’s all. Everybody should do good, and may God help everybody.”
The original Tikkaway, at 135 Orange St., is open on the weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends.
Correction: Oct. 17
A previous version of this article misstated where Gopi Nair received his MBA. It also misstated Tikkaway’s weekend hours.