A queer couple have realized their dream of opening their own restaurant, and that too as a tribute to their Indian culture and upbringing.
Resh Sonchhatla and Heena Varambia’s restaurant, Chapati Club, is an LGBTQ+ inclusive space that aims to welcome locals with open arms.
The couple started the venture having no experience in the restaurant business, while going through the stress of IVF.
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Resh was, by profession, an accountant at the time – but had always dreamed of opening his own food business.
She said: “Food has bothered me since I was a child. I watched my mum while she cooked and was fascinated.
“I went to college and trained as an accountant, over time it got more depressing, it was unfulfilling and I wanted to be more creative and be my own boss.
“I was in my early 40s and decided to quit corporate life, I said if I don’t do it now I don’t want to think I should have.”
Resh and Heena shared a lifelong passion for food, instilled from childhood by their large families, and having grown up in nearby Hounslow, Heena was a fan of the diverse and creative Acton region.
The idea of opening a “non-traditional” restaurant serving “the food we grew up on” quickly became a reality when an ideal site became available; they made an offer, which was accepted, and opened the Chapati Club on April 7, 2017.
“I still had my job at the time, we went to see the site which was a disused Chinese restaurant.
“There was a minimum premium on it, so it needed a renovation,” she said.
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At the time, the couple were going through IVF, but they felt that “the baby thing didn’t work”.
At this point, they put the idea on the back burner and decided to focus on opening the restaurant.
But, at the same time, just days after signing the lease on April 17, when they still had a few rounds of IVF left because they had bought it in packs, Heena got pregnant.
The couple have since also given birth to another child after Heena became pregnant for a second time just before Covid.
The busy duo currently open the restaurant four days a week to maintain a work-life balance.
Resh said the restaurant’s goal is to make sure everyone feels included and that she finds embracing others to be their strength as a restaurant.
Speaking about her own journey as a queer person in a South Asian family, she said: “I didn’t come out to my family until I met Heena 12 years ago.
“I was exploring marriages of convenience with a gay man, I thought I could never do that to my family, my parents aren’t strict but not modern either, we grew up around a nice Hindu community, everyone everyone knew them.
“I was in my thirties and my parents said there was this guy every week, one day I told my mum that my sister was helping me deal with the situation.
“I introduced them to Heena who is also Indian, it was awkward but walking away was a relief, time passed and we finally bought a house together.”
Eventually, they both started spending time with each other’s families and things fell into place.
When they launched the restaurant, they never thought it would be a proud and proud LGBTQ+ space.
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However, when the business had been open for two months, Heena picked up an LGBTQ+ flag at the Pride event and said they should put it in the restaurant window.
Resh said: “I said we couldn’t do that, she said why not, I couldn’t tell her why, but it was so wrong, but then I thought actually, let’s put it on in the restaurant, so people can see it.
“Over time, we’ve become open about it – as an Indian-owned gay restaurant.
“We now get a lot of gay couples and gay singles, word started to spread and for me, if I was in my twenties, if I knew there was a gay Indian restaurant, I would go!”
The restaurant is not only a representation of them, it is also one that showcases their culture through the menu.
Resh and Heena turned to favorite recipes from their shared Indo-Kenyan heritage, many of which have been passed down through their families.
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“Chicken G Dad’s Way,” for example, is Heena’s dad’s recipe, a dish so popular within his family that every time it’s prepared, it leads to a large impromptu gathering.
The ’61’ in ‘Chicken 61’ meanwhile refers to Resh’s aunt’s house number, where she would go if she wanted to eat chicken, which her vegetarian mother wouldn’t cook.
April 2022 marks the fifth anniversary of its launch – you can visit the Chapati Club at 117 The Vale, London W3 7RQ.
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