DOVER – Taste of India is celebrating a milestone anniversary since brothers Joga and Jarnail Singh opened in Dover in 1991.
Over 30 years ago, Jarnail was 35 and living in Boston when he decided to leave town and open a restaurant for him and his family, who planned to immigrate from the state of Punjab, to northern India.
“I looked everywhere outside of the big city, around Rochester and here, but when I saw this place I liked it,” Jarnail said. “I pulled over and got the phone number and called when I got back to Boston.”
Joga was 29 and a math teacher in India when he came to help his brother run the restaurant, and he says Dover has become home to his family.
“The economy was not good in 1991, so a lot of places here (in downtown Dover) were empty,” Joga said. “Now, over the past three years, Dover is growing very, very quickly, with a lot of apartments under construction and new clients coming in. It looks like we live in a real city center now.”
Jarnail said he first applied for a 10-year lease, renewed for another 10, and before he knew it it had been 30 years. Jarnail has officially retired from the company and handed everything over to his brother, but he’s still here to lend a hand to Taste of India.
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Thinking back over the past 30 years, the brothers agreed that the first three years in business were the most difficult. They recalled the challenges of the restaurant’s early days as they tried to attract customers and compete with another Indian restaurant that opened in Dover three months after Taste of India.
“When we first opened, a lot of people didn’t know much about Indian cuisine,” Joga said. “The first three years we worked hard to keep going, and that helped us to be successful, but it wasn’t easy.”
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During the pandemic, Taste of India switched to a take-out-only model, which the brothers said worked well for them, as take-out was already a big part of their business. They reopened the restaurant seats this week, coinciding with their 30th anniversary.
“We were very lucky to have a lot of people who came to help us survive this time,” Joga said.
While Taste of India mainly serves North Indian dishes, Joga says there are South Indian inspired dishes on the menu. The Punjabi cuisine of North India is known for its rich buttery flavors and variety of vegetarian and meat dishes.
“The Punjab is like India’s market basket, it’s 65-70% agriculture,” Joga said. “We serve a lot of traditional food, and everything we do here you can find in India.”
They offer seafood, lamb, chicken and beef dishes as well as plenty of gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options.
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Joga said that while the dishes are traditional and not Americanized, they give customers the flexibility to choose how spicy they are on a scale of mild, medium, hot, or traditional Indian spicy.
“Some people are scared and think that all Indian food is piping hot, so we customize our dishes, bread and appetizers to suit the customer’s needs,” Joga said.
One of their most popular dishes over the years has been chicken tikka masala, which is rooted in the North Indian cooking style that uses a tandoor oven to roast sautéed chicken tikka with tomato sauce and Butter. Joga said his other favorite dishes include their saag paneer dish, which consists of homemade cheese cooked with fresh spinach and spices; their butter chicken dish cooked in a butter sauce with Indian spices; as well as their lamb dishes.
Taste of India is known for its popular Sunday buffet, which ceased during the coronavirus pandemic. The brothers hope to bring him back later this year.
A family business
While finding a home for Taste of India, the brothers said it was important for them to find a place that their family could also call home.
“My brother told me this is the perfect place to raise a family here, and it is,” Joga said. “We have a lot of memories here. Our children were born in Dover, they were small, they always ran here. Now they are fathers. I remember our 4 year old boy helping our wives with the dishes. grew up here in this restaurant. “
The family lived in an apartment above the building and all family members have been involved in the ins and outs of the restaurant over the years.
For many years the brothers sponsored a Dover baseball team to give back to the community. The biggest lesson they say they’ve learned over the years is that in order to be successful you have to “think big and have a lot of patience,” as Joga put it.
“Even on my days off my spirit is still there,” Joga said. “The community has done so much for us, and we are happy to call Dover our home now.”