A Partnership of Patels
Indian fast food at Curry Up
by Sally Mitani
"If you meet a Patel, generally speaking they're from Gujarat," the westernmost province of India, says Swetang Patel, explaining that though he's unrelated to his business partner, Rutul Patel, their families both immigrated from Gujarat around the same time in the early 1990s. Rutul, twenty-five, grew up in Canton, and Swetang, twenty-seven, in Ann Arbor. They became fast friends at U-M Dearborn, where they both majored in finance, but the way they easily finish each other's sentences, argue good-naturedly, and liberally sprinkle their sentences with "awesome," they could be brothers.
Their new Plymouth Mall business, Curry Up, serves what it sounds like--quick, informal Indian street food. Categories on the menu include "chaat lari," "dosa," and "kati roll." Some, Ru says, represent regional specialties--the dosas are south Indian, while the kati rolls (fried chapatis wrapped around curries) are popular in Calcutta, and a lot of the chaats are Punjabi.
Neither Patel has any restaurant experience, but each brings useful skills to the business. Swetang's family owns the nearby Wine Seller and Om Market (his older brother Hardik, who runs the Wine Seller, is Curry Up's third partner). Rutul's family owns a small Indian catering business in Livonia called Rasna, where, he says, "my mom does the more traditional Gujarati items and my dad does more of the north Indian food." The Curry Up menu is in fact a much-condensed version of Rasna's offerings--the ones that the Patels thought would adapt best to a fast-food model.
For now, they've left the Gujarati food off the menu. Swetang claims Gujarati food doesn't lend itself to quick snacking.
"Well, bhel puri, that's Gujarati," Rutul argues. Bhel puri, in the chaat section, is described as puffed rice mixed with chutneys, onions, and potatoes. "But mostly," Rutul agrees, Gujarati food is too complex. "For example, bitter melon--it has to be cooked just right. If you can make that well," he says, it's the epitome of Gujarati cooking--sweet, hot, and bitter.
"Growing up, I hated it," adds Swetang.
It's not on the menu.
Swetang designed Curry Up's bright, comfortable dining room--about a dozen tables, counter service only--while Rutul was responsible for the kitchen. "We're discovering we need more storage space and more counter space," Swetang says, echoing probably anyone's complaint about their first kitchen. They did a few trial-run soft openings in early August, adjusted the menu, then opened for real on August 27 and are slowly learning the tricks of the lunch trade. "Usually about forty small tickets and they all come at once," says Rutul. "Dinner is fewer tickets, but bigger orders."
The Patels are still not entirely happy with the way some of their food survives transport, so they're not offering delivery yet, though you can order takeout at your own risk. "It would be tough to deliver some of these items. Like dosas--I'd rather people eat them when they're crispy," Rutul says of the south Indian fried pancakes. Swetang adds: "Sometimes people might not know how to mix things. To enjoy some of these dishes, you need to assemble and mix them in a certain way with the sauces and chutney. I like to be here to tell them how."
As soon as they're satisfied with the regular menu, they're hoping to offer weekly specials, like chicken biryani or one of Swetang's childhood favorites, a Gujarati specialty rarely seen here, called papdi lote. He tried to explain it (while Rutul tried to remember how to spell it in a roman alphabet): "A mix of spices, in a flour base, with a consistency of mashed potatoes. I want to say ... " he laughs, "a glob! You dip it in oil. Only Gujaratis will know it."
Curry Up, 2711 Plymouth Rd., 418-3175. Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m. curryupaa.com
[Originally published in October, 2012.]