Prem Damodaran and Sheik Dawood are admittedly not seasoned restaurateurs. “We’re just two homeboys trying to open a joint,” as Prem put it. But Kumar’s, the Plano restaurant these homeboys opened together on May 16th, has already become a popular gathering place for anyone seeking authentic south Indian village cuisine.
Prem, a software engineer for a Dallas company called RoboKind (check it out, it’s pretty cool), moved to America in 2004 to complete his Master’s Degree at UTD. While bartending at a friend’s restaurant, he and Sheik, the restaurant’s manager, became friends. Prem has always been a foodie, and friends were constantly praising his cooking. Between that and the fact that he missed the food from back home, it didn’t take long for Prem and Sheik (pronounced like shake) to start planning their own restaurant with homestyle cooking.
Where is home, anyway? Prem is from Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state in India. His wife, Preethi Gandhi, is also from Tamil Nadu, but from the city Madurai, famous for its spicy, flavorful cuisine. In Madurai, there is a popular eatery called Kumar Mess that provided the inspiration for Kumar’s in Plano. Prem explains the concept, “There are these small mom and pop restaurants in India called ‘mess,’ which are primarily family owned. Everything is like grandma’s cooking, made from scratch using raw ingredients, and not using pre-made powders or sauces. These are traditional recipes from the villages.”
There are no porcelain dishes or fancy garnishes in a mess, everyone eats on a banana leaf. So at Kumar’s in Plano, every dish is served on a banana leaf as well (with a plate underneath, per that pesky health code). Prem couldn’t find stainless steel dishes like they use back home, so he had them imported from India. Kumar’s isn’t very fancy, and it’s not supposed to be. Prem says everything is designed to be “just like home, the way it’s served, the atmosphere . . . the way we talk to people, everything.”
So far it seems that there is one obvious reason that Kumar’s has been so popular: the food. On Kumar’s official opening day, over 300 people unexpectedly showed up for lunch after a Facebook event Prem created drew more of a response than they’d anticipated. By the 11th day that Kumar’s was open, they already had 50 5-star reviews on Facebook. On a Wednesday night during their second week of business, I saw the entire restaurant full, except for maybe one or two small tables. One family told them they’d come from Euless to try the food. Prem laughed, “Indian people will drive 20 or 30 miles to get food like home.”
Prem explains how Kumar’s differs from other Indian restaurants in DFW. “Most of the restaurants tend to modify the recipes a little to cater to people from here. We try not to do that. We believe that we can get them to like the authentic south Indian taste.” To add to the authenticity, many of the chefs at Kumar’s are from India. And they don’t take any shortcuts. To make briyani, for example, they take all the separate spices, dry roast them, and make the powder themselves. There are no boxed mixes here. If something doesn’t taste exactly right, they won’t hesitate to throw it out and start over.
The menu is extensive, with dishes from south India, of course, but some from north India, as well. If you aren’t familiar with Indian cuisine, don’t be shy. Ask questions and your server will help you choose something. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, all prepared separately from meat dishes. And Kumar’s has a juice bar where you can choose fresh fruit to be juiced and served with your meal (which is something typical back home, Prem explained).
If you want to try this place, be sure to come on the weekend for vaazha ilai virundhu, or unlimited meals. They are served every Saturday and Sunday for lunch, on a giant banana leaf (of course) and cost $14. It comes with Sambar, Kaara Kolambu, Rasam, Chicken Kolambu, Mutton Kolambu, Fish Kolambu, 2 Poriyals (vegetables), Koottu, Dessert, Curd, Appalam, ButterMilk and a Pickle. The food, and the experience, does not disappoint.
Kumar's Website >