Photo Courtesy: PriaVanda Chouhan
For South Asians, the need for good food is in our blood. The ability to make it from scratch, on the other hand, is a learned skill—one that’s not exactly rocket science but often feels like one. Just ask chef and owner of the Desi Galli eateries in New York City, PriaVanda Chouhan. Not too long ago, Pria admits, she struggled to make a good cup of chai in her pre-marital days. But her love for good Indian soul food drove her to get cookin’. Little did she know, her newly learned skill and natural-born entrepreneurial spirit would soon have some of the top food publications, like Bon Apétit and Zagat, wanting a taste of her creative dishes. For Kama’s second “She’s the Boss” spotlight (read the first one here!), we sat down with this longtime foodie to learn how she went from managing a regional sales team for a fashion brand to founding two popular eateries and catering for Madonna in less than five years.
New York, NY
“Desi Galli [makes] fresh Indian street food and is the home of the first gluten-free kathi roll and [our newest signature dish], Desi Poutine. I created this restaurant to satisfy the Desi hankering for Indian soul food. Though my father warned my husband-to-be that I couldn’t cook, I soon taught myself to make not only my mother’s recipes but also my husband’s family favorites. After a lot of trial and error, my husband Vishal was impressed and pushed me to open a restaurant. Desi Galli has been open since May 2012. A recent milestone is the opening of our second location in the East Village [this past year].”
“The smile I see on customers’ faces when they love my food is the most rewarding thing about being an entrepreneur. I really enjoy feeding people and want my clientele to be reminded of their parents’ cooking and home. It was a dream come true when we catered for Madonna’s team while she was on her Rebel Heart tour in NYC.”
A Day in the Life:
“I wake up around 7 a.m. and have masala chai. I think about going to the gym, but that rarely happens. [Then, I] check emails until 10 a.m. and get ready to head to one of the locations. Once I arrive, I check if all the prep has been done and have a team meeting to organize our day. Then, I talk to customers and ensure food is to my standards…My day normally ends around 10 p.m. unless we have an event.
“It is hard to balance a work/ home life as an entrepreneur. I felt so guilty for not spending time at home. A work/home balance will come after a few years. [In the meantime]I always schedule a mini-vacation every quarter to refresh myself.”
“I have been obsessed with clothes and creating since I could remember. My mother taught me to sew at young age, and then I studied fashion design [in hopes of becoming a fashion designer].
“My last job in my past life was a regional sales manager for a Canadian fashion company Buffalo, David Bitton. My territory had 22 locations and 250 employees. I [also] used to have a stationary company, self-titled PriaVanda. The line was all hand-woven with satin ribbons. It was a growing business, but when the restaurant opened I needed to focus all my attention on this new venture.
“My parents inspired my entrepreneurial start. They came to Canada in 1973 with very little. My mother worked as a seamstress during the day and my father as a welder during the night. We always had a parent at home, but they were never together. They saved enough to buy their first convenience store when I was 12, then a hotel. I witnessed them work 7 days a week to secure our financial future. I always remind myself that if my parents came to Canada without knowing the language and without education, I should do even better than them.”
“My husband is my rock. I was very nervous to open a restaurant in the middle of New York City. We were gambling our nest egg. He advised me to give it my 1000% to make it a success and, if I did, we could not fail.”
The Success Manual:
“Do not be afraid to ask for help and knowledge. I always seek a network of restaurateurs. I do not see them as competition but as a pool of knowledge. [And] put on red lipstick. I can be wearing no makeup, but with red lips, my face lights up, and I feel confident.”
“She’s the Boss” is a weekly profile series by Kama that highlights the achievements of professional South Asian women.