Pictured above (left-to-right): Executive Chef Sujan Sarker and ROOH owners Anu & Vikram Bhambri; all photos by Kelly Puleio
Vikram Bhambri, co-founder of ROOH San Francisco, was tired of the Indian food scene in the United States. Coming from a family well-versed in hospitality, business and international travel and cuisine, Bhambri knew change was needed.
“When people thought about Indian food, they mostly talked about buffets and curry,” he explains. Bhambri, along with his partner Anu, shared a different vision.
“About five years ago, we ended up coming to India for vacation and we dined at one of Sujan Sarker, now our Executive Chef’s, restaurants in Delhi. After having his food, we said, this is what we’ve been looking for. His food represents what modern India is,” Bhambri recalls.
“We started talking to him, and he was a Times Chef of the Year in India, had lived in London and worked at Michelin star restaurants. When he returned to India, he wanted to apply the modern cooking techniques he had learned to Indian cooking.”
These “modern” cooking techniques caught Bhambri’s attention.
“His technique and presentation were so new and pleasing to the eye, but at the same time the textures and flavors of classic Indian cooking were still there. He maintained the flavors and colors, but the ingredients were fresher and had a more creative palate.”
Finding Sujan Sarker was an easy win for Bhambri, and he credits the talented chef as a huge reason for ROOH’s early success.
“When we opened the doors to the first ROOH in San Francisco in February 2017, the reception was amazing. Once people really started to accept the modern version of Indian cooking, it was incredible. And not just the food. You don’t usually think of Indian restaurants and wine, but we have actually won awards for our wine list. We’ve created cocktails by a mixologist who comes from India, and each one has special ingredients.”
One location led to a second location in New York. Then Chicago, Delhi, Columbus and Palo Alto. The meteoric rise serves as a source of great pride and excitement for Bhambri, but he’s quick to add that “In March when Covid hit, we had to shut down every single location.”
Fortunately, the prolonged success of their businesses allowed Bhambri and his partner to not only protect as many of their workers as possible, but pitch in with Covid relief efforts in San Francisco.
“We ended up continuously paying all our kitchen staff who are here on Visas, so they wouldn’t have to go back to India,” Bhambri says. “We continued our delivery and we also signed up with a couple organizations working to deliver food to the hospitals around the city and feeding the needy, however we could help. We signed up with a service so our guests could do a pay it forward bill. If they wanted to donate a meal to any of the health workers, that worker could just come pick up the meal and it was already paid for.”
With the first terrible wave of Covid behind San Franciscans, Bhambri is using his imagination and creativity to re-open ROOH San Francisco in a safe and still uniquely delightful way. Maintaining an atmosphere of beauty, comfort and good cuisine is as important as ever.
“Under the guidelines now, we can reopen outdoors,” Bhambri explains. “We are currently redoing the full menu and working with land artists to really use the outdoor space we have available in a meaningful way.”
Bhambri believes that food sustains people through difficult times. “Absolutely,” he says. “Even for an hour, food gives you that sense of security and satisfaction.”