When chef and cookbook author Biju Thomas opened Biju's Little Curry Shop in River North last December, he made it clear that he had bigger plans than just a single fast-casual Indian joint. And now with that first eatery all but maxed out in kitchen space and with more customers than room to feed them all, he's expanding his reach and will open a second Little Curry Shop on Tennyson Street — in the same building where Atomic Cowboy is setting up its third location.
The new space, which Thomas hopes to open in November, is more than twice the size of the compact original, which will allow for a full production kitchen (he had previously considered renting commissary space to handle the extensive prep work needed for the sauces and other ingredients that make his South Indian curry bowls so special) and a dining area with room for about twenty more seats than the RiNo spot. The new space also has a full basement where offices and walk-in coolers will be added.
Thomas says that he sees the first Biju's as a testing ground for his recipes and thinks of it as more of an underground phenomena, with a side-street entrance, no menu on the wall and a customer base built on buzz alone, rather than advertising or marketing. The new location will still have the vibrant, street-market vibe and alley placement at the back of the building that was once the Ward Carter Dance Studio, but he expects more of a dinner than lunch crowd because of the residential setting in the heart of the Berkeley neighborhood. With the additional space, he'll also be able to expand the menu, but he only plans a couple of new items, mostly to keep things simple and streamlined for employee training and future growth.
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That growth could mean a couple more Little Curry Shops in the next year or so; Thomas has been scouting locations around town, including along Colfax Avenue. "I don't want to do suburbia, though," he says, adding that an urban setting is part of the restaurant's character.
With an overflow of customers at the current shop and work on that second location, it's amazing that Thomas still has time for other projects, but he just finished a photo shoot for the art that will go into his upcoming cookbook, the latest in his Feedzone series designed for high-performance athletes who also love to cook. The new book, the Feedzone Table, will focus on recipes for family-style meals.