Image above: At Tiffin Indian Cuisine in King of Prussia are Rajesh Byanjankar, left, co-owner of the King of Prussia franchise location; Munish Narula Tiffin founder; and Rajan Bindukar, co-owner of the franchise. Photo by Gary Puleo — digital first media
The appetite for authentic Indian food these days seems to be growing as fast as a well-known restaurant chain that’s at least partly responsible for its soaring popularity.
For its ninth location in 10 years, Tiffin Indian Cuisine has taken up residence in King of Prussia, smartly perched overlooking DeKalb Pike in the newly renamed Valley Forge Plaza Shopping Center.
“There’s always room for more good Indian restaurants,” noted Tiffin founder Munish Narula, who launched the first Tiffin — an Indian-English word for a light midday meal — in 2007 in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, with a pioneering attitude of raising the standard of traditional Indian cooking, along with public perception, and branding the specialty ethnic cuisine in a way that hadn’t quite been done before.
“If somebody had never tried Indian food before and then they try a restaurant and didn’t like it, their reaction is that they don’t like Indian food at all, not just that it was a bad restaurant. We want to change their attitude toward Indian food,” Narula said. “When we opened 10 years ago. I believe there were eight or nine Indian restaurants in Philadelphia. Today there are about 58. It’s very gratifying to see us grow because it’s not just a business. It’s a family.”
Following Northern Liberties, Narula had opened a string of Tiffins in places like Elkins Park, Wynnewood, South Philadelphia and Cherry Hill.
King of Prussia has been in the game plan for a long time, Narula said.
“We saw what was going on with all the commercial development here. This spot was more economically feasible for us than some others we saw. It’s a very high visibility spot and the day we came to see it we knew we were taking it,” he said of the former State Farm insurance office.
King of Prussia is the first Tiffin franchise, owned and operated by Rajesh Byanjankar, a veteran Tiffin operations guy who hired chef Durga Rai to demonstrate his mastery of the complex flavors of Indian cuisine with such dishes as Chicken Tikka Masala — the top Tiffin menu item since the beginning — Saag Paneer (creamy spinach with cottage cheese cubes) and traditional curry (ginger, garlic, cumin and garam masala) in the wide-open Tiffin kitchen.
Narula is proud of the no-secrets accessibility that allows customers to see all steps of food preparation from any table in the intimate dining room, which seats about 28 diners.
“People find it very interesting to see the food being cooked, especially the breads, the tandoor and things like that,” he said. “But it also brings in that satisfaction that everything is clean and being handled properly. Bringing comfort to customers, puts them at ease that it’s a nice clean environment, especially if they may have had a buffet 10 years ago in a dirty restaurant or something like that.”
A common misconception is that all Indian food is excessively spicy, Narula noted.
“That’s not true at all. But we try hard to keep the food the way it’s supposed to be. We don’t try to dumb it down or make it less spicy,” said Narula, who had been entertaining the idea of franchising since the outset.
“I had to be comfortable with someone putting their hard-earned money into a business, to be at a point where I felt it would be a success. I think I’m more worried about someone else’s money,” he added, laughing.
“We control the branding and the marketing, like any franchisor. We have set the standard. They have all of our resources … all they have to do is follow them.”
Although Indian lunch buffets have popped up everywhere in the last few years, Narula is not a fan of the all-you-can-eat concept.
“We make everything to order and want to give people fresh food, not food that’s been sitting on a buffet for two hours,” he noted. “We have lunch specials so that people can get the value they’re looking for. And all of our menu items are reasonably priced so that customers don’t have to worry about spending a lot of money.”
Tiffin recently became one of the first Indian restaurants in the country, and possibly in the world, to release detailed nutritional information about all of its dishes.
Friends and acquaintances had tried to discourage Narula form taking the nutritional leap, he recalled.
“They said people will believe what they want to believe. It will backfire. But the response has been nothing but positive,” he said. “And once you get to 20 restaurants you have to have your nutritional info available anyway. We want to grow very quickly, but we didn’t do it for that reason. We did it because we wanted people to have the information.”
Marianne Kelly, Tiffin’s director of communications, completed the nutritional content of every dish using sophisticated software, she explained.
“It’s based on portion sizes as they’re served to the customer,” Kelly said of the nutritional profiles, available at www.Tiffin.com. “Overall, I think people love the food and that they aren’t necessarily as concerned about what the nutritional content is, although it’s generally a fairly healthy option. There have been some people who’ve wanted to know about it. I just got a question recently from someone who wanted to keep Indian food in their diet as they started a diet .”
Narula is so devoted to the company’s use of technology he is fond of saying he is in the food tech business..
“We will be launching our app soon. How many Indian restaurants can say they have an app?” Narula said. “You can do everything with the app: order, pay, look at your rewards program, place an order in advance. And we’ll be adding curbside service to the app soon. So there are a lot of things we’re doing that a mom and pop operation wouldn’t even be thinking about.”
Tiffin Indian Cuisine is located at 254 W. DeKalb Pike, King of Prussia.
Free delivery is available within a three-mile radius.
For more information, call 484-231-8128 or visit www.tiffin.com.
By Gary Puleo, The Times Herald