Updated December 24, 2021: Tandoori Chef II is now targeting a soft, online opening for December 25, 2021. Order at https://www.tandoorichef2.com.
After 10 years of success in a quiet corner of Maplewood Village, Tandoori Chef II is headed for main street — a prime spot in the former Lorena’s location at 168 Maplewood Avenue.
Owner Amit Bhaiya says the stars aligned for Tandoori Chef II, which is planning a soft opening on or about Monday, December 13, for takeout and delivery only. In-house dining will follow in a week or two.
“Everything fell in place,” says Bhaiya, who needed to find a new space after his landlord at 6-1/2 Highland Avenue (tucked behind Cactus Charlie) said he had a new tenant after their 10-year lease expired and gave them 30 days to vacate. “This place was empty,” says Bhaiya, gesturing to the busy final renovations taking place at 168 Maplewood Avenue. “I truly believe everything happens for a reason.”
With Lorena’s having relocated to The Clarus at 160 Maplewood Avenue, Bhaiya reports that Brian Kelly of Keller Williams and John Britto, the realtor of 168, helped him sign a new lease on July 15. Five months of renovations ensued.
“Although it’s a preexisting restaurant, the type of use is so different that we needed to redo the whole kitchen,” he says. The new kitchen is larger, with bigger hoods, and new exhausts. “We’re down from 65 seats to 25 seats because the majority of our business is takeout and delivery.” Sushant Naik, Tandoori Chef II’s chef for the past 10 years, remains at the helm of the kitchen.
Bhaiya also credits the Township of Maplewood and the Maplewood Village Alliance for being very helpful. “We’re not chasing anybody. This was very professional.”
Besides the renovations, Tandoori Chef II (the original Tandoori Chef I is in Hackensack) is getting a rebrand. “We’re changing the logo. We have a new color scheme. We’re going for a retro cafe look and feel,” says Bhaiya. “Now we are on the main street. The windows are there.” Bhaiya plans to have outdoor dining in the near feature with three or four small two-top tables along the sidewalk.
“90% of our business is takeout/delivery but I think being on the main street might change that, and we want to be ready to accept that.”
Even after 10 years in town, Bhaiya and his father-in-law Rajesh Desai, who runs the restaurant day to day, report that a lot of Maplewood residents will still ask, “Where are you located?”
“If we survived in that location for 10 years — and we didn’t just survived, we did well — and if we come here, I see no reason to not make an investment,” says Bhaiya. “This is an opportunity. The visibility. The train station right behind.”
Bhaiya calls Raj the face of Tandoori Chef II. “He knows all the customers and they know him. This is how we built this business. Quality ingredients. Nothing frozen. Everything fresh. Dad is the one who pretty much hand picks all the ingredients.”