For restaurateurs Raj and Priyanka Singh, breaking into Montana's cuisine scene hasn't been easy.
The couple cut the ribbon on their first restaurant in Montana – Curry Express in Belgrade – in 2013.
It was, at the time, the first Indian restaurant in Gallatin County. And although the feat seemed like an accomplishment, the Singhs quickly learned their hard work was far from over.
Most people, they were surprised to find, were hesitant to try Indian cooking because of common misunderstandings about it. Namely, that all Indian food is strong and spicy.
Describing the first months of their journey with Curry Express, Raj says they spent time getting involved in the community, setting up a stand at the local farmers’ market and using that atmosphere to introduce locals to the flavors of India.
“We started serving there so people started trying food there,” recalls Raj. “And that’s when they were like, ‘Oh, it’s not spicy! Oh, it’s flavorful!’”
That sentiment ought to be on a wall in the Singh’s restaurants: that "spicy” food and hot food are not the same thing. As the Singhs explain, when it comes to Indian dishes, “spicy” just means that spices are involved, but not necessarily that the dish is fiery with capsaicin.
“That [realization] kind of changed everything,” continues Raj.” And that’s where they started coming to the restaurant and started trying different things, and that’s when they loved it. They fell in love with us and we fell in love with our work.”
Now, five years later, the Singhs are working overtime to dispel the “spicy” myth as they open their second restaurant, Pakeezah, in Gallatin County.
The Singhs say their goal isn’t to simply bring Indian food to Bozeman. Instead, they want to recreate the Indian experience in Bozeman.
“Bozeman really needed us,” mused Priyanka, “and we needed to be in Bozeman, too.”
Their new restaurant is at the edge of downtown Bozeman, on Bozeman Avenue. Their slogan is “In Bozeman, on Bozeman, for Bozeman.”
Once you try a truly authentic Indian dish – the Singhs claim – you’ll be hooked. They say that around 95% of their customers are regulars who come in at least once or twice a week.
For those nervous about trying new foods, the Singhs start all of their food flavors at a level that kids can enjoy. Spices are then added depending on the guest’s palate and flavor preferences. Each dish served, they say, is completely independent from others.
Pakeezah – just off of Main Street in downtown Bozeman – is in the middle of its soft opening now, but the Singhs plan to hold a grand opening before the end of the month.
Curry Express in Belgrade is still open, and continues to be owned and operated by the Singhs.
Pakeezah is open for lunch buffets from 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM with dinner starting at 5 PM, Monday-Saturday.