For today’s Q&A with a New Canaan business owner, we talk to Prasad Chirnomula of Chef Prasad. The Main Street restaurant is taking orders from 12 to 7:30 p.m. every day except Tuesday for pickup or delivery. Last year, the Indian restaurant’s busiest day was Mother’s Day, Chirnomula said, with 400 dinners to-go and customers waiting two hours. The website is taking orders for Mother’s Day now.
Here’s our interview.
New Canaanite: How you all doing at Chef Prasad? This is obviously a very difficult time for many local businesses.
Prasad Chirnomula: Well obviously the fun part is gone, the dining room and people interaction. My catering, my cooking classes—that is all off right now. We are doing business behind closed doors. We are still keeping our spirits up. Luckily we have a good client base and the takeout business is something I’ve built up for 20 years. So for me it is not a learning curve on the to-go business, except to make sure we are stocked up on bags and containers.
What as the community response been like?
I think with being in the town of New Canaan for 20 years, they are supporting us in a big way. Even if they do not need food today, they are buying gift cards. The amount of email I get—‘Thank you for keeping open’— and pictures from families. In general, we have a lot of feedback. I was a bit nervous initially for my staff because during the peak of coronavirus, I was almost thinking, ‘Why risk my staff and myself?’ But the the amount of support we got from the community, I have no words for that. Some people, like New Canaan Moms, they were super nice sending their own internal emails and posting on social media and they came and bought a $500 gift certificate to give back. Already instructed my staff: no questions asked if somebody from Town Hall or Police or Fire or the medical people and even clients come in and say listen, ‘I cannot ford to pay now,’ no questions asked, just give the food. A few people take that and it makes me happy.
What is your sense of the future for Chef Prasad?
A restaurant’s cash flow—or most retail’s cash flow—they collect sales from this week to pay last week’s bills. We don’t have like six months or two years of working capital like big businesses. Hopefully things get back to normal. I don’t think that in the near future people will be comfortable sitting elbow-to-elbow at a bar or table. So it’s very confusing, to say the least. I really don’t know. Because the food I make travels and keeps well, breads travels so well, people do a lot of takeout and keep it going. Speaking out loud to myself, I could maybe change the way we do business to convert the restaurant into a gourmet boutique, continuing the takeout and feeding families and making single-use containers and things like that and not really get back into fine dining and china and silver and glassware. I don’t care how careful you are, you are going to touch something somewhere. So we could make a gourmet boutique store with food and sauces and a counter outside the kitchen where people can order by tablets and take their food and sit outside or go back home.
What are people asking for? What are your most popular dishes?
Without a doubt our Chicken Tikka Masala. Cauliflower Manchurian on the appetizer side. That’s huge. Our fresh-made breads like nan and garlic nan are humongously popular. We also do many lamb stews, rice.
What is your message for customers?
The biggest message is for everybody to follow social distancing and wear protective masks and gloves. Hang tight and support us. One of the biggest messages I’d like to give to them is when you order online or pick up phone and call us, switch to ChowNow.com. We do a lot of orders, deliveries from Uber Eats and GrubHub and Door Dash. As much as customers want to support local businesses, these guys take a 30% commission. So they are indirectly supporting a big national company. We cant make 30% profit on a good day, so it cuts into our profits. So if you want to support us, call us or on our site there is an “order online’ area that is the ChowNow app. I do I still pay them but it’s less, it’s a yearly fee.
[In a text message after our interview, Chirnomula noted that generous tipping form Chef Prasad customers has been very important. “Every few dollars will help my staff,” he said.]