Vimala's Curryblossom Café receives national grant
Posted September 16, 2015
Updated September 17, 2015
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Spices call from around the street corner and carry the visitor through the lush and romantic courtyard to the door of Vimala’s Curryblossom Café.
Upon entering, stacks of gleaming chrome, sterling silver, and stainless steel Bombay Thali dishes stand at the ready to receive the next meal. Huge stock pots hang in suspension anticipating steaming curries.
Carrboro resident Vimala Rajendran has been seamlessly fusing Indian and local cuisine for more than 5 years now, starting from home and eventually housing the business in Chapel Hill off Franklin Street. She and husband Rush Greenslade, along with her daughter Manju , work with dedicated managers and staff to produce some of the Triangle’s most heartfelt Indian food. Representatives from Chase will hold a special event at the establishment announcing the winner of a $100,000 Mission Main Street Grant Wednesday at 11 a.m.
They certainly are known for supporting the community. Anyone who visits must understand that this is a café of, by, and for the community. To enjoy the dining experience, at least a basic knowledge of Indian culture and cuisine is helpful, as is the tacit approval of feeding one’s neighbors and appreciating group power through food. Beautiful hand-loomed Eastern rugs hang silently, speaking to the tremendous amount of elbow-grease, heart, and soul emanating from the walls of this restaurant.
The food is exquisite. Each dish was seasoned to perfection and not overly spicy-hot, though one can request more spice. Keep in mind that not all Indian food is meant to be spicy, but seasoned well with a fine sense of taste. Most dishes are gluten-free, and many options are suitable for vegans or vegetarians. Vimala has a focus on dishes from the Kerala region, with plenty of room for interpretation, fusion, and hyper-local seasonal sourcing. Creativity and modernism mark dishes such as a recent pole bean bhaji, with the same blending carrying over to beverages such as their mango cayenne lassi, and bullet-proof coffee with ghee, coconut oil, and vanilla.
The list of area farms and merchants they partner with is too long to reproduce, but a few include Cliff’s Meat Market, Chapel Hill Creamery, Circle Acres Farm, Core Sound Seafood, Eco Farm, Ever Laughter Farm, Fernrock Farm, Periwinkle Farm, Fickle Creek Farm, Flat River Nursery, and Spice Bazaar.
I tried the lamb curry (Kashmiri-style Lamb Rogan Josh), saag paneer, dal and potato curry, and cucumber raita, with the saffron rice and mixed salad garnish which comes with several items. While I was there, Vimala dealt smoothly with any number of business matters, from catering orders to filling in the chalkboard menu of the day which greets customers. I also asked for tea, as Indian teas and beverages are unique and very refreshing in hot, humid weather. There are a number of local breweries represented however, with some good wine options as well. I was intrigued by the vibrant dark-red potion sat down in front of me which was delicious and vaguely familiar. It was hibiscus tea! It is known for its health benefits and also very popular in Jamaica and the tropics of the world, especially India. Hibiscus is a colorful theme here.
I asked why she was passionate about supporting local food and efforts. Her reply was in line with the prevailing attitude permeating so many of our Triangle restaurants:
“Local food is important because local food is fresher. Therefore, the food is tastier and more nutritious. Buying local also adds tremendously to the local economy.”
It is precisely this passion for local, fair-trade and organic which has gained her beautifully diverse families and loyal customers, whom she greets as they come in the door. Indeed, this is what helped put them in the running for one of 20 Mission Main Street Grants offered by Chase. Vimala’s Curryblossom Café will be the first small business recipient in North Carolina to receive the highly-competitive award.
The grant recipients will receive a trip to LinkedIn’s California headquarters to gain insights that will help them grow their businesses.
Recipients were selected by a panel of 20 industry leaders with diverse backgrounds in business focused on veterans, women, minorities, finance and more. Social media giant Linked In was a major sponsor. Mission Main Street Grants have been offered for several of the past years, going back at least as far as 2012.
Out of curiosity, I asked Chef Vimala if she had a favorite menu item. “Yes! The samosas! Everyone loves them!” Some dishes exemplify the love and care which goes into a culture’s food, and Indian samosas (a pastry-style dumpling usually filled with spiced vegetables) are among them. They may be making a lot more of them in the coming months if they receive this grant.