Jaipur, a popular Indian restaurant that closed last year after more than a decade on Randolph Street, has reopened across the street from its original location. The new location neighbors Rooh, the flashy Indian restaurant that opened in May. The opening prompts questions if two West Loop Indian restaurants can coexist as neighbors in a competitive restaurant industry.
Rooh represents a flashy newcomer focused on modern cuisine. In the other corner, Jaipur, serving up what now comes to represent traditional Indian food in America, is perched for a comeback.
“We don’t think of this as a competition,” Jaipur co-owner Shweta Bharwad said. “We’re just good neighbors.”
Jaipur closed in July 2018 as a victim of new development. That ended an 11-year run. Chicago isn’t known for its Indian restaurants, and Jaipur — with its prominent Randolph Street location — was popular. It appeared as a Bib Gourmand selection on the Michelin Guide, recognizing affordable quality. Its new location replaces Ronero, which closed in December 2018. Jaipur’s wife and husband owners Shweta and Hital Bharwad also own the building at 738 W. Randolph Street. They purchased it in 2014.
Shweta Bharwad said they had two deals for other tenants to take over the space but they fell through. When they bought the building five years ago, the intention was to move Jaipur. So far the new location is in soft opening mode without a liquor license. Hopefully that will come in November. That’s a big difference versus the original Jaipur at 847 W. Randolph Street. For now, its beverage menu consists of spirit-free drinks and lassis.
Rooh co-owner Manish Mallick was surprised when he heard about Jaipur’s plans. His cousin, Vikram Rahul, opened the first Rooh in 2017 in San Francisco. The Indian restaurateur is a minority owner in a New York location in (Baar Baar) and is Rooh is about to open in Columbus, Ohio with co-owners Ashok Kishinchand and son Bhavesh Kishinchand. Mallick quit his corporate job to focus on the restaurant. He’s trying to give Chicago a unique Indian culinary and cultural experience. For example, Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, starts on Sunday, and the restaurant offers a special tasting menu dinner to celebrate the holiday.
Mallick sees Rooh as new school, while Jaipur is more of a traditional take on Indian food. He was diplomatic when asked about the new competition.
“My best wishes to them, it’s a tough business to be in,” he said. “If it works out, there will be two good Indian restaurants next to each other and the Chicago community will enjoy that.”
For many living in Chicago, Jaipur provided their first taste of Indian food. In tech terms, they were first to market and build brand awareness in serving the type of food that’s defined Indian cuisine for the vast amount of Americans. But nothing is frozen in amber and cuisine continues to evolve. Rooh aims to show Americans the latest in Indian trends. The restaurant uses modern plating and more of a gourmet touch. It pushes the boundaries of what Chicagoans expect from Indian food.
While the price of Japanese food has increased — it’s the most expensive meal in New York, for example — Indian food remains at the lower end of the price index, a tick above Chinese restaurants. Just last month, four of the five newly minted Michelin-starred restaurants in Chicago serve Japanese cuisine. There’s a cultural prestige associated with Japan, one that hasn’t followed for Indian, Chinese, and Thai cuisines.
Rooh would like to shatter that perception. But it’s an uphill battle in this phase of the authenticity wars. That’s when diners, many of them white, ding “ethnic food” on platforms like Yelp for not measuring up to their limited experiences with the cuisine and country.
“We always got complaints about price,” Bharhad said, adding that customers are much more educated now versus in 2008 when Jaipur first opened.
A Randolph Street restaurant means food prices have to help pay for high rents and leases on the pricey West Loop strip. It’s not as expensive as the heart of Chicago’s South Asian community in Rogers Park. The prices at Jaipur are about the same as the old location, GM Heather Santos said. It’ll have a few new appetizers, but other than that, it’ll serve the same food. They’ll have lunch specials, but not a buffet.
Out of the gate, Jaipur will also offer takeout and lunch. Mallick said the Rooh team is considering that in the future, but want to establish its dining room before branching out to other endeavors.
These two Randolph Street Indian restaurants are an interesting case study. Jaipur’s Bharhad said there’s also plenty of pizzerias in the West Loop (Lou Malnati’s, Bonci, Forno Rosso, Parlor, Nancy’s), and no one sees it as an issue. Nevertheless, a West Loop favorite is back.
Jaipur, 738 W. Randolph Street, (312) 465-2250, open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Tuesday to Saturday; noon to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.