After 3 months of staring at a computer screen to build our website, we are happy to announce that we have launched Simmr beta! Our first restaurant is one very close to our hearts (and offices) — Tava Indian Kitchen.
We first met Vijay and Hasnain, co-founders of Tava, in their Palo Alto location, back when we were building an Angellist for small businesses. In classic startup stalking fashion, we noticed what looked like a meeting between the founders of Tava and a vendor. After some nonchalant loitering, waiting for that meeting to end, we approached Vijay and Hasnain. They graciously agreed to answer our questions about how Tava got started.
Fast forward 9 months, past 3 restaurant fundraisings, many conversations with small business owners, and a tough but well deliberated pivot, we reconnected with Tava. A lot had changed on their end, too – with a very successful store in Palo Alto, they had opened a San Francisco store … right across from where we work. With the energy and enthusiasm of an entrepreneur who gets the importance of building real relationships with customers, Vijay signed up to become a pilot Simmr business.
There were so many possible ideas, but we finally settled on showcasing Tava’s chai, a unique blend of 10+ spices that Vijay and his team researched and concocted.
The evening of the event, attendees were greeted by Vijay and a long communal table. After everybody had a chance to get their fill of Tava’s delicious food, Vijay stepped up to the head of the table with about a dozen glass jars of spices in front of him, some easily recognizable, some completely foreign. He first talked about his background and Tava’s story. The founders of Tava had left comfortable jobs in consulting and private equity to create Tava, which actually is the word for a large, flat griddle used in South Asian cooking for bread.
Vijay described how in Indian homes, fresh bread was a norm, such that somebody was consistently bringing out fresh roti during a meal. Inspired by this and the wide range of fresh, high quality Californian ingredients, Tava starts each ordering process by putting a ball of uncooked dough on the tava. As the roti cooks in front of the customer’s eyes, an employee and handy menu guides the customer to first choose a rich base sauce, a protein filling, and a melee of fun, colorful chutneys. All these ingredients and spices are mixed in a bowl or wrapped within a warm, slightly chewy roti.
Chai, Vijay explained, is a centuries-old beverage commonly drank in India after meals. It produces a warming, soothing effect, and acts as a natural digestive aid. Chai literally means “mixed-spice tea” and is made by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs. The spices and herbs vary across region and personal preference. In creating the chai on Tava’s menu, Vijay and his co-founders researched a vast array of spices including cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and star anise to come to a well-balanced mixture that is lightly sweet and creamy with a warm, spicy kick – what they call ‘Christmas in a Cup.’
Vijay carefully described each spice and the flavors it brings or enhances before passing each jar for attendees to smell and touch. We learned interesting facts like that peppercorn (from which pepper is made) is actually a fruit and that green ones are milder in flavor than their black counterparts.
Armed with this knowledge and a fresh cup of chai, participants then created their own chai spice mixes to take home in glass jars. Vijay walked around and engaged with each attendee personally, helping to answer questions and giving suggestions on what might be interesting mixes based on each person’s tastes. After some time to chat and interact, we announced a surprise for the evening – a cold, alcoholic chai that was spiked with vanilla vodka, something that Vijay helped create with us and was visibly excited about. 🙂
All in all a successful night! People who came in skeptical about chai went away loving it and saying they’d stop by Tava just for the chai. Everybody got to have a real conversation with Vijay and felt like they formed a rare kind of relationship with Tava.
What’s next, you ask? Many more events with Tava and others like Turtle Tower, Samovar Tea Lounge, American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, and Radio Africa Kitchen! Tava is thinking of featuring their chutneys (yogurt raita, tamarind, cilantro, mint, among others!) or mango lassi, or hosting a “Tava laboratory” where you get to hop behind the counter, operate the cool tava, and mix and match ingredients to your heart’s desire.
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