Bonnie Saran’s “Little” Restaurants Have Generated a Big Brand in Mount Kisco
Born in India and raised in an Army household, Saran channels her travel experiences, family ties and culinary talents into a trio of highly successful, authentic restaurants.
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Needing to get away, Saran asked her brother-in-law, who was also her partner at 4 City Events, to run the business “for a few months” while she took a trip to the United States. Previously, an acquaintance of Saran’s who owned a group of Indian restaurants here had asked her to explore the possibility of working for him.
“I never took the offer very seriously, but I was not in a sane state of mind, and I just wanted to move and get away. In India, there were constant reminders of my father passing away, and I wanted to be in a different environment.” True to his word, the acquaintance, Girdhar Gopal, hired her to run operations for his companies, and she moved to Greenwich, Connecticut.
As her involvement grew, so did her interest in opening a small Indian restaurant of her own. “People don’t call in for Indian food on a regular basis,” she says she thought at the time. “They call in for Chinese or pizza.” Saran wanted to change that, so when a spot opened up in Mount Kisco in 2010 that would be perfect for such a restaurant, she was ready to leap at the chance. The only problem was that there was zero money.
One possible source of financing, however, was open to her: During the years she worked in India and the States, she had paid for a house for her mother in Goa. Everyone thought she was crazy to sell this home during the height of the recession, but she “went with a gut feeling” and used some of the money from the sale to open Little Kabab Station. “My mom was actually very supportive of this decision,” Saran says. “She believed in what I was doing and told me, ‘Don’t worry. If you have this gut feeling, go for it.’”
Saran had no professional training in cooking, but she had learned many recipes from helping her mom over the years with her catering business, and her time consulting and running operations for larger restaurants, she says, prepared her for the challenge of running her own place. Her baby, Little Kabab Station, opened in February 2011, with Saran as co-owner and one of the chefs. Despite the restaurant’s tiny size—it seats just 12—it took off quickly and enjoys high customer loyalty. “Some customers come in everyday for lunch, and, when it gets busy, they write up their own checks and leave the money on the table, because they know how much it will be.” Celebrity fans include Martha Stewart, Michael Douglas, the Clintons, Chevy Chase, and Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.
In February 2012, Little Spice Bazaar opened two doors down as a market for the exotic spices many of Little Kabab Station’s patrons asked about. These two booming locales were surely enough to keep Bonnie busy, but, when the cigar shop between the two closed, the wheels in her head again began to turn. She wanted to open a place offering something not found in the area—crêpes. Her latest outpost, Little Crêpe Street, opened on December 6 with its tagline, “Pardon my French!”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Saran is a larger-than-life personality. Tall in stature and sturdy in physique, with very short black hair, she is usually found in jeans and her chef’s coat. She interacts with her customers like they are all close friends or family members, even making a curious journalist feel at home and giving samples galore.
She lives with a Lhasa apso named Poopie—the only relationship she has time for, given her demanding schedule, she insists.
“Every year on my dad’s birthday, I go to the temple and do a prayer for him, and, one year on my trip back home, I stopped in this pet store to cheer myself up a little. I saw this dog who was so cute. I lifted him up and played with him, and then put him back, but he just kept looking at me. I was originally going to name him Wachovia, because I actually used my mortgage money that I was carrying with me to buy him.”
Her typical day consists of waking up around 8 am—not by an alarm clock, but with a kiss from Poopie—and heading to work from about 9:30 am until 11:30 pm, seven days a week. She meditates every morning, but “I’ve never asked God for anything. The only thing I say to God everyday is, ‘thank you,’ and that’s it. Restaurant or no restaurant, money or no money, I am extremely lucky to have my health, food to eat, and a roof over my head.”
When asked about her future plans, Saran, who loves to travel, simply hopes to take some time off someday for a vacation. “I can’t see that happening any time soon, though, because I am always at my job. I can’t even travel to Chappaqua because I just don’t have the time.” But you can tell from the big smile on her face that she loves and enjoys every minute of it immensely.
She has, she says, had offers to sell her three spots as a franchise, but, so far, she’s balking. “My biggest joy is creating something out of nothing,” she says. “As long as I can do that, I am very happy.”
Cat Zambito is a freelance writer who also works as a voiceover artist. She lives in Mamaroneck with her husband and son.