Chefs

At Pondicheri, Anita Jaisinghani Offers an All-Day Welcome

Chandra Ram

At Pondicheri, her all-day café with locations in Houston and New York City, Anita Jaisinghani is doing more than just serving Indian food; she’s sharing the Indian culture of welcoming people all day while making them aware of what they eat and how it makes them feel. She talked with us about attracting customers in the morning, plus snacking all day and why that can help you feel better.

How do all-day cafés fit into Indian culture?

Indian food lends itself so well to all-day dining. There are a gazillion snacks: dhoklas, pani puri, chaats, all kinds of street food. People snack all day long, from early morning through late at night. 

Indians love to talk and eat in general. It’s a very social culture. In India, people show up at each other’s houses to visit, even at random times. Growing up, we were expected to bring people home, at all hours. You sit with a cup of chai and a snack and talk. Even when you go out shopping, if you go out to buy a sari or something a little expensive, you get offered a cup of chai and a snack. It’s part of the interaction. 

How did you get customers to eat Indian food for breakfast?

People here don’t understand Indian breakfast. When I opened the first Pondicheri, for the first six months, breakfast business was terrible. I remember this guy looked at me and said that without bacon, we would go out of business. Not that I have a problem with bacon, but it’s such a quintessential American thing; it’s in every breakfast place in America. I want customers to smell cumin, garam masala, fermenting dosa batter, something different. I refuse to subscribe to big fat ugly plates of meat, grits, all of that. Now our breakfast business is huge, but it took time.

How did changing eating habits in America help your restaurants?

People are far more health-conscious now; they have figured out that there is accountability to what you put in your mouth. We in Indian culture have always believed that; it’s the Ayurvedic way. We eat bread in the morning, but we also eat vegetables. You need to eat something that will give you energy. You can eat anything, but you have to eat the right way, and the right portion size. 

My morning thali plate is the perfect representation. Meat is not the center of the plate; we have a lot of options. You can have quinoa, upma, morning oats, salad, raita, a paratha with fried egg. And I’ve had a breakfast salad on the menu for years. Why not start your day with vegetables?

Our green dosa is our biggest seller. The way Indians traditionally eat it is too heavy, so my daughter started stuffing it with vegetables, and it’s become our top breakfast seller. It’s naturally vegan and gluten-free, naturally fermented. We’ll add it to the dinner menu soon. Why not eat dosa at night?

People now eat hummus all day; they eat eggs at night. They’ve changed how they eat. I think we’ve been stuck in this mode of eating a big breakfast, a big lunch. But if I eat a big meal at lunch, I don’t want to work, so I can’t follow that lifestyle. I want to eat a salad in the morning, maybe a juice for lunch. I’d rather eat small meals throughout the day. And I want to sell food that I want to eat; that’s my main thing.

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