Photos courtesy of Shirley’s India
When the pandemic hit the Indian restaurant hard, the family behind it adapted with the times to rebound better than ever.
As with so many restaurants scattered across Westchester, the COVID shutdown in March 2020 was a devastating blow for Shirley’s India in New Rochelle. After remaining closed for two months, Shirley and Vaccahan Abraham and their three adult children decided to regroup and come back with a whole new business plan.
In fact, even before the pandemic struck, “business had slowed down, and my parents were looking to close the restaurant,” says their 31-year-old son, Andrew Abraham. But the pandemic gave them time to rethink that decision, and perhaps fortuitously, Andrew had just lost his job as a manager at the Monarch Rooftop bar and lounge in Manhattan because of the pandemic.
So, on Mother’s Day of 2020, Shirley’s India reopened as a takeout-only restaurant, running out of the same Leroy Place storefront that they have since 2012. But now Andrew is in charge as the owner/operating manager of the restaurant as well as the family’s highly successful catering business, which primarily serves the large South Indian community across the Tristate area.
“The catering was nonexistent because of the pandemic,” Andrew remembers. “Now, the takeout is doing very well, and the catering has come back too. We’ve got the community behind us, which has been great. We’ve been in business a very long time.”
That business — the product of hard work over many years by this immigrant family — dates back to 1995, when Shirley and Vaccahan began to offer catering services from their New Rochelle home to provide for their three young children. As a young girl, Shirley had learned to cook traditional dishes from her mother while growing up in Kerala, in the southern part of India.
“Our roots are in the South Indian spices,” Andrew says. “Even when we do North Indian food, we use the same spices and style of cooking.”
Meanwhile, Shirley is still at the restaurant every day, “but her role is different now,” says Andrew. The restaurant’s namesake is now more of a quality-control person. “She is a very qualified chef,” he adds, noting that she has trained many other chefs.
Andrew says now that the restaurant is strictly takeout, the family can just concentrate on the root of their success: the food. “We don’t have a bar or a sit-down restaurant to worry about.”
The most popular things on the menu are the stir-fry shrimp and the Chicken 65, a traditional fried, boneless, chicken dish, along with all of the wraps. The breads come from a bakery in Queens, but everything else is made in-house, from scratch.
Judging by the plethora of raves on Yelp, things are going quite well indeed. Shirley’s India has not just survived the pandemic but actually found a way to thrive in spite of it.