Five years ago this month, Choolaah
opened its doors in Orange Village (27100 Chagrin Blvd., 216-350-3136) unsure what the reaction would be. With the stated goal of transforming the Indian food experience, Choolaah went well beyond being simply a fast-casual provider of Indian food. They designed an entirely different model, one built on the twin pillars of high-experience and high-quality. This fine-casual operation sources great ingredients, cooks it behind glass in tandoor ovens, and dishes it all up in bright, attractive and art-filled spaces.
“We think it’s important for people to enjoy themselves,” says co-CEO Randhir Sethi. “That creates joy, that creates transformation.”
The public’s reaction, of course, has been nothing short of adoration. Since Sethi and partners Raji Sankar and James Nesbitt launched in Northeast Ohio, they have gone on to open stores in Pittsburgh and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and Sterling and Fairfax, Virginia. A sixth shop is currently under construction in Greater Pittsburgh, which is slated to open in early 2020.
Next up for the quickly expanding brand is Ohio City. The design process is under way to transform a 3,000-square-foot space on W. 25th Street, currently home to Howard Hanna (1903 W. 25th St.) into location number seven. Projections place opening day somewhere in the fourth quarter of 2020.
“We were waiting, waiting, waiting for the right spot in Ohio City,” says Sethi, adding that many spots failed to make the grade. “We think the neighborhood is such a great fit for us because of our vegan, vegetarian and restricted-diet menu options. So many of our main menu items are built for that; we are on the forward curve for those things.”
Diners can look forward to a sharp, colorful interior outfitted with the trademark tandoor ovens, an enclosed four-season patio and an open-air patio. As at all locations, salads, bowls and wraps are built around high-quality proteins like Amish-raised chicken, Halal lamb, Faroe Islands salmon and organic, non-gmo tofu. They are topped with flavorful masalas like tikka, chickpea and lentil. They are finished with chutneys and hot sauces and sided by street snacks like crispy samosas, fresh-baked naan and refreshing mango lassis.
The company currently is developing an app to ease the order, payment and pickup process. Delivery services will be rolled out in the near future. And a grab-and-go section will offer take-and-bake entrees to be enjoyed at home.
Sethi admits that it has been hard work to get to this point, but the future has never looked brighter. The team is busy developing supply chain infrastructure that will support new stores from southern New Jersey to Columbus. Subsequent growth will focus on in-filling markets where Choolaah already has a presence, such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland, with the west side of town and Fairlawn mentioned as possible future sites.
“We want our guests to be able to enjoy Choolah within 20 to 30 minutes,” notes Sethi. “The dream is to have Choolaah in every part of the world.”
The company currently employs 250 employees and is steadily growing the team from within. All of this growth, adds Sethi, is the result of a successful launch five years ago in Orange Village.
“If Cleveland hadn’t embraced us, Choolaah wouldn’t exist,” he says. “We’re very grateful. Obviously, we didn’t know what to expect, but it was very warmly received. It was not easy in the beginning because we were figuring it out as we go and we had chosen to do a lot of bold things. But if you have the right people on the bus, they figure it out. We’ve been blessed with that.”
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.