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Royal Indian Cuisine closes its doors after four years of business

Ram Mutyala and mother, Krishna Kumari, prepare orders for their final night open for business.
Kaysie Ellingson
Ram Mutyala and mother, Krishna Kumari, prepare orders for their final night open for business.

Ram Mutyala left his home in India to come to the United States almost five years ago. He wanted to help his mother achieve her dream of opening an Indian restaurant in Lubbock, Texas. And they built a successful restaurant, Royal Indian Cuisine, a local favorite in the center of town. But after over four years of providing the community with authentic Indian cuisine, the family business couldn’t withstand the economic blow of the coronavirus.

It’s the last day Royal Indian is open for business. Inside the restaurant, the dining room is empty with the exception of one table and a few chairs. “Our most popular dishes are the curry dishes and tiki masala,” he says.

His mother, Krishna Kumari, the chef, sits in the corner dressed in a traditional sari. She left her children with their father to come to Lubbock over 25 years ago. Mutyala looks at his mother filled with pride as a he explains that she’s uneducated and doesn’t speak English, but she’s been the sole provider to her entire family through her cooking—until Mutyala came to help her.

The smell of curry drifts through the room. It’s their last day, but their work isn’t done. People are rushing to get one last order in before they’re gone for good.

“I tried to stay open because I thought [the pandemic] would pass in two or three months,” he says. “It’s still there and it might still be there for some more time than we expected.” This month it became obvious it wasn’t worth it to remain open in the conditions with no income.

He knew having to rely solely on delivery and carryout orders was going to be a struggle. The restaurant relies heavily on group events and their buffet to bring in enough money to break even. Over the last three months, Mutyala has been paying everything out of his own pocket. He applied for a small business loan, but to no avail.

He’s not resentful about the loan. Back in India, he explains, there are 1.5 billion people. They don’t expect the government to assist with anything. So they didn’t count on any help from the U.S. government. “We are habituated to understand the government in India. There are a lot of small businesses which may not get the help because the government cannot help everybody.”

A lot of his family is still back in India. He and his mother used money from the restaurant to support all of them. Although he’s sad to see his business close. He’s surprisingly upbeat about the experience.

“I know nothing about business but I ended up successfully completing the business after like four years.” Prior to immigrating to the U.S., Mutyala was working as an engineer in Qatar. He took a chance opening the restaurant with no prior business experience. “This is not my fault we’re closing,” he says. “This is just because of some other external issues that everybody is facing.”

Throughout the past four plus years, he’s learned a lot about running a business. If things improve over the next few months, Mutyala hopes to reopen the restaurant—maybe even bigger this time around. But if not, he and his mom may have to move back to India for good. Before ending the interview, he shows off his tandoori naan making skills, rolling out the dough and sticking it to the side of a blazing furnace. The front of the restaurant may look empty, but today, on their last day, the kitchen is alive.

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