Indian delivery specialist Tiffin is on track to blow up like a disc of naan charring in the tandoor. Munish Narula’s expansion plans for the string of BYOs he started with a single outpost on Girard Avenue in 2006 move forward this fall with the opening of three New Jersey locations, but that’s just the beginning.
By 2016, Tiffin will be a regional chain, with a new store launching every two or three months. And there’s an overseas angle: Narula just returned from a scouting trip to Kazakhstan, where he’s in serious talks to develop his Tiffin and Tashan concepts for that fast-growing nation.
Narula, a former investment banker, currently runs six Tiffins, including Tiffin Bistro in South Philly (the only location with a liquor license). In the next two months he’ll add three more. Voorhees will open around September 11 with 55 seats, 30-seat Cherry Hill Tiffin will launch September 25, and a large, 70-seat restaurant will begin serving in East Hanover near the end of October.
While there’s lots of room for dine-in customers, Tiffin is best known for its delivery service. The brand was an e-commerce pioneer in the restaurant industry, offering online ordering long before Grubhub and Seamless made it ubiquitous.
“Our online presence is as strong as ever,” Narula says, noting that the Tiffin website was just revamped and the next step is a dedicated smartphone app.
As more stores are added, regional commissary kitchens will take over the complex job of making the sauces and chutneys that are key to Indian cuisine, delivering them to all outposts each morning. Everything else will be cooked on site, from tandoor meats to samosas to naans.
It’s good news for Indian food lovers in our area, since there aren’t many (any?) chains offering this kind of cuisine here.
That dearth is even more glaring in Kazakhstan, where there are almost no Indian restaurants. This summer, a Kazakhstani banker who was in Philadelphia to take an advanced management seminar at Wharton enjoyed eating at Tiffin and Tashan so much that he sought out their owner.
“We really need to do something like this in Kazakhstan,” he implored Narula, who then accompanied the CEO back to his country to survey the culinary landscape.
“It was an eye-opener,” Narula says, recounting that the two biggest cities, Astana and Almaty, are very modern and cosmopolitan, with a large number of English speakers in their 1.5-2 million person populations. However, there are not more than two or three places to get Indian food in either one.
Though the international deal is far from finalized, there’s a solid chance that Philadelphia will end up being the conduit through which Indian cuisine takes hold in Central Asia.
Anyone in the mood for some chicken tikka masala?