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BRANFORD — Darbar India won’t be moving far when the restaurant relocates in April, but owner Haresh Nariyani has some changes in mind.
Indian pizza, for example. A bar where people can sit and enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine. Room for outdoor seating.
He also hopes to be able to relax a little, with a smaller venue, lower costs and, with some luck, an end to the pandemic that has dealt such a crushing blow to the restaurant industry.
Darbar will be moving from its longtime location at 1070 Main St. to the former Assaggio at 168 Montowese St., just south of the Green, which is being renovated. But it’s been a longer journey for Nariyani, who was told he’d have to leave in fall 2020 because Laxman Sharma, who opened Darbar in 1994, was planning to sell the building.
“He helped us. He gave us a break,” said Nariyani, who said Sharma gave him several extensions. “Without his effort we wouldn’t be able to achieve the new location. Otherwise, I would have been four months out of business.” A gap like that can devastate a restaurant, he said.
Nariyani, who has owned Darbar since 2008, said his monthly rent will be $3,500 instead of $8,400. He won’t have a banquet room like he does now, upstairs, but that’s OK. “I don’t want to work ’til 1 o’clock at night, 2 o’clock at night.” At 60, he wants life to be a little easier.
Besides the COVID-19 pandemic, which cut business 70 percent or 80 percent, he said, when they could only do takeout and delivery, costs have risen. Frying oil more than doubled in price. Chicken breast jumped from $1.20 to $2.50 per pound. Lamb, from $4 per pound to $6. Shrimp rose in price, too.
“The food business is not profitable anymore,” Nariyani said, which is why having a bar with 12 chairs and four tables will help.
Throughout, his staff stayed with him. “Everybody in the pandemic stayed with me,” he said. He took them to get their vaccines and boosters. He hopes to hire more once he moves.
He also delivered 350 meals to the staff at Yale New Haven Hospital. “I used to go myself and give them the meals,” he said. “But the staff is working here and there is no work.”
While he never closed during the pandemic, it was hard using the delivery services, which take a cut. “They take a good amount of percentage and we’ve got some very loyal customers in Branford, Guilford, Madison, East Haven, New Haven,” Nariyani said. “I’ve got a customer coming from all the way from Milford. They were here last week. They come every month. And between Branford and Milford there are about 10 Indian restaurants.”
The new location has a patio. It was hard to serve outdoors on Main Street. People waiting for a bus would sit at the tables, some of them elderly, and Nariyani didn’t have the heart to tell them to move.
Even getting the new location ready has been slowed by eight- to 12-week delays in getting equipment delivered.
But when it opens, Branford and beyond will be treated to some new, non-traditional dishes, “some new stuff like Indian sandwiches, Indian burritos, and then Indian pizzas, like a chicken tikka masala pizza,” he said. “Something new, you know.”
He hopes the new items will build the lunch crowd. But his longtime customers won’t be disappointed. There still will be chicken pakora (chicken pieces dipped and fried in chickpea batter), kadahi paneer (homemade cheese cooked with spices), curry, tandoor and spicy vindaloo.