A Chicago vegan restaurant that’s been in hibernation for the majority of the pandemic is asking for the public’s help so it can reopen. Art of Dosa has launched a online fundraiser as the South Asian food stall prepares to reopen next month inside Revival Food Hall. Art of Dosa has been closed inside the Loop food hall since March 2020, and also closed its commercial kitchen in August 2020, stopping delivery operations. Ownership deferred reopening for months, but now says it must does so by September as Revival has “has kept our stall reserved for as long as they can.”
“People have gotten vaccinations, more are going to work,” owner Ravi Nagubadi says. “Yeah, there’s the delta variant, but schools are about to start. Parents have a little bit more time to come back to the office than they did before. So it’s time.”
Nagubadi wants to raise $75,000. Some of that is to cover a lease at a commercial kitchen where his team can mix batter, cook curries, and do some prep work for food for Revival inside a space larger than what the food hall offers. It would also allow Art of Dosa to resume its delivery operations. The money would also cover cooking equipment, installation, and license renewals.
Before Revival, Art of Dosa popped up at festivals — like Riot Fest and Vegandale — and other events. The stall introduced many to dosa, the South Indian staple made from fermented lentils. Vegans and vegetarians, especially those working downtown, made the stall popular during lunch hour.
Art of Dosa opened inside Revival in December 2019 after months of delays. Nagubadi had been trying to open a location for years and saw deals fall through. The opening inside Revival, owned by one of Chicago’s more popular restaurant groups — 16” on Center — represented an achievement for Nagubadi: he would be sharing the same food hall with James Beard-award winner Mindy Segal and Smoque BBQ, one of the city’s premier barbecue spots. But the elation was short lived with the arrival of COVID-19 which halted indoor dining two and half months after opening.
After closing in March 2020 when Gov. J.B. Pritzker suspended indoor dining, Art of Dosa was ready to reopen in August 2020. But plans were dashed again not only by another wave of COVID-19, but more civil unrest downtown in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Vandalism help keep offices closed and customers away from Downtown Chicago.
“I don’t like to overstate it or anything, when you really look at it, it’s more than just a roller coaster,” Nagubadi says.
Nagubadi is reluctant to ask the public for help. This is a family-run business with his mother and wife often helping him at festivals. In some ways, the fundraiser is a trial balloon for him: “Does this world really want this concept to exist and to survive and thrive?” Nagubadi says.
Dosa was enjoying some spotlight in American mainstream media before the pandemic. Nagubadi hopes it’s not fleeting, pointing to Vice President Kamala Harris’ video with actress Mindy Kaling and Padma Lakshmi’s efforts to bring attention to the item.
“We kind of short-circuited,” Nagubadi says. “But our story isn’t over.”