“I’m defiant. The more people say, ‘Don’t do it,’ I’ll do it,” Bonnie Saran asserts over lamb tacos and tequila at boisterous Little Drunken Chef White Plains, her sixth and most recent opening. “When I was opening [my first location], Little Kabab Station, I must’ve asked a hundred people, and all of them said, ‘Don’t do it; you’re crazy.’” Now, as one of Westchester’s few female chef-owners, with a clientele that includes Martha Stewart and the Clintons, it’s clear all 100 were wrong — but at the time, one couldn’t blame them. This shortly after the economic recession, the worst since the Great Depression, and Saran was proposing to open a tiny, cheap-eats, Indian-inspired restaurant in downtown Mount Kisco.An army brat born and raised in India, where she built a successful career in set design and construction, Saran moved to the U.S. in 2003 and got a job in restaurant operations and analytics in Brewster. To open Kabab Station, she sold her apartment and invested $12,000 in the venture.
Colorful, eclectic design is one of Saran’s hallmarks. Case in point: this upstairs lunge at Little Drunken Chef in White Plains.Photo by Doug Schneider
“Everything was done by me. Every tile, all the panels. I remember asking the Verizon guy to lend me some screws,” she recalls. “That gives me a bigger high than anything else. Put me in an empty space, and I can visualize the end result.”Within a year, Saran had acquired an old photo shop on the same block, to use for storage and to retail spices, juices, and smoothies, which she dubbed Little Spice Bazaar. Little Crêpe Street followed in the adjacent space, then Pleasantville’s Little Mumbai Market and Little Drunken Chef Mount Kisco — no longer truly “Little,” with more than 80 seats.Little Drunken Chef White Plains, which opened in June, is her biggest and busiest yet. It’s also the first time she’s opened a restaurant to staff investment. “For the staff that has worked with me for a long time, they can buy in on a profit-sharing basis,” says Saran. “One guy invested $300, another person $5,000. I want to make sure they make some return on their money. That’s why I’m working even harder.”