You may have noticed the Taja Indian sign above the space that was until recently Bombay Bowl in the shopping center at Broadway and Sixth Avenue. While it may seem odd that one fast-casual Indian restaurant would take the place of another, Taja is under the same ownership as its predecessor, but with a new menu and ordering style that owners Amar and Autumn Singh have implemented to give customers a more authentic taste of Indian cuisine.
The couple opened the first Bombay Bowl in Centennial in 2009 with a point-and-order menu similar in style to Chipotle, where ingredients are cooked throughout the day and kept hot along the order line so that customers can see what they're ordering. They opened the Broadway location soon after, bringing the concept to a more urban setting (the original Bombay Bowl closed several years ago due to skyrocketing rent). And in February this year, they launched a new concept called Taja Indian in Lakewood on the busy South Union Boulevard corridor. It turns out that Taja was a test run for a switch in direction for the Bombay Bowl concept; in April the Singhs converted the Broadway location to a second Taja.
Why the changes? "We want to differentiate ourselves from being just fast- casual and want to be 'fine-casual,'" Amar Singh explains. He says that while business was good at Bombay Bowl, the ordering system made it too easy for customers to "over-customize" their orders and end up with ingredients that clashed. Singh adds that the the result was a disservice to customers and to Indian cuisine.
"We wanted to take over the customization of the menu," Singh continues. To that end, Taja's menu reads more like the menu at a full-service restaurant, with a list of multiple entrees — each with an choice of four proteins — as well as sides, naan and desserts. Instead of choosing from an array of sauces, chutneys, proteins and toppings, customers only need to choose their entree and protein — which consist of chicken breast, braised lamb, paneer (fresh Indian farmer's cheese) and organic, non-GMO tofu.
Entrees that come with the choice of four proteins include familiar Indian dishes like tikka masala, korma and curry. In addition, there are a few vegetarian dishes that need no customization: saag paneer (with spinach), aloo gobi (with cauliflower and potatoes), daal tadka (made with yellow lentils), and channa masala (with chick peas). The meats are hormone- and antibiotic-free and the lamb is grass-fed and slow-braised for nine hours. The chicken at Bombay Bowl was thigh meat, but with Taja, the Singhs are using breast meat — something they couldn't do with the old menu because breast meat doesn't hold up well on a steam table.
"Taja means 'fresh,'" says Singh. "That means supreme-quality ingredients and non-GMO products. At Bombay Bowl, we were doing it from day one." Now the quality of the ingredients is a little more evident in the menu descriptions.
Autumn has a background in marketing and public relations and Amar previously worked in finance and mergers and acquisitions. Many of the recipes at Taja come from Amar's family, so the couple is focused first on the food, noting that freshness, health and flavor are the primary goals (they removed the deep-fryer that was part of the original Bombay Bowl kitchen). But they're also making sure the business side is streamlined since they've already gotten calls from people interested in franchising Taja. "There's a huge void in fast-casual, professionally run Indian restaurants," Amar notes, so he's making sure that everything at Taja, from the menu and kitchen to the back-end software, are easily packageable.
And although he says Denver is one of the toughest markets in the country right now for fast-casual, the Singhs plan to open at least one more Taja before year-end before looking to other states for expansion.
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