The word kasa translates to “a feast.” Anamika Khanna, the owner of Kasa Indian Eatery, provides customers with a unique –and delicious—version of this concept.
She weaves an intricate tapestry of flavors, textures, and subtle spices into every dish that the restaurant makes. As Anamika says, “Our mission is to introduce the western world to vibrant Indian flavors. The food is light, but with its colorful sides and components is a true feast every single time.”
The goal of Kasa Indian Eatery is to offer an energetic, positive, and welcoming setting for its patrons. Rather than a “heavy, formal sit-down, drawn-out dining experience,” it is more of a happening local neighborhood restaurant. Besides its flagship restaurant in the Castro neighborhood, it has expanded to two more locations: one on Polk Street, and the other in Redwood City.
A Story of Three Continents
Anamika’s path through life has been as complex as the karahi paneer you will find in her restaurant. She spent part of her childhood attending school in India. However, the bulk of her younger years, Anamika was raised by her single mother in the projects of London. Her mom, a waitress, was forced to bring her daughter to work, an introduction to the restaurant world. By the age of 14, Anamika was helping her mom try to run a challenging small business. Seeing her mother’s countless hours struggling to make ends meet, Anamika was determined to make her proud, and she eventually became a lawyer. After practicing law for a few years, she moved to San Francisco, where her fate awaited.
Genuine home-style Indian cuisine, meanwhile, had been simmering in the background all of those years. Soon after arriving in America, Anamika’s dream of crafting lively, light, authentic fare began to take shape. Seeing only dense, overly-spiced Indian food in the city, she knew she had an exceptional approach. Her background helped form the initial dream of Kasa. She elaborates, “Kasa is representative of my experience of three continents. It’s somewhat English, Indian, and American simultaneously.”
Her husband, Suresh, found and secured the location for the Castro restaurant, and Kasa Indian Eatery was born.
The problem? It was 2008.
Opening a restaurant—and keeping it open—in the middle of a recession is not the simplest feat to pull off. With two young children, little business experience, and a fledgling restaurant, times were tough for a few years. Yet Kasa persevered.
The food at Kasa is one of a kind, deliberately calibrated by Anamika to have “a woman’s touch.” She explains, “Sometimes Indian male cooks…don’t show enough restraint on the spices. The result is a brown sauce for everything.” Instead, she says, “I wanted my own vision to come through.”
And what a vision it is.
Every dish served at Kasa is a family recipe; almost all of them handed down from her beloved aunt. Beginning when Anamika was just five years old, her aunt began to teach her how to prepare authentic, perfectly-balanced Indian favorites. She learned how to limit spices so that the taste of vegetables and meat curries is enhanced, not overpowered. Yogurt and fresh herb chutneys are still paired with Rotis at Kasa today. The communal feel of family eating freshly-prepared meals made with the finest ingredients permeates the restaurant, just as it did Anamika’s childhood.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kasa Indian Eatery has had to transfer to takeout and delivery only. Sadly, half of the employees had to be released, but having fewer workers has promoted a safer environment. The menu has been streamlined. The online platform is now optimized so that customers have a seamless to-go and delivery experience.
Corporate catering is a large portion of Kasa’s business and has suffered considerably. In such an expensive city, it is proving difficult for the restaurant to make it through without the catering business. Anamika has hope that when normalcy returns, companies will need individually boxed lunches from restaurants such as hers.
Despite its challenges, the restaurant has partnered with various nonprofits to help feed vulnerable communities and front-line hospital workers.
Hope Springs Eternal
Anamika remains hopeful. She says, “We have a very, very strong and loyal following that has carried us through, and fingers crossed, will continue to carry us through.” She adds, “We miss the face to face contact with our customers, especially our regulars.”
She ends with a strong message of resilience: “We were born in a recession and sometimes a crisis makes you stronger. Kasa has been your neighborhood Indian eatery pre-pandemic, during the pandemic, [and will be] after the pandemic. We believe in making the best out of even the worst situation.”