By Austin Meek
Plumes of smoke from slow-roasted tandoori chicken and fresh-baked naan will soon be wafting along the 500 block of Austin Avenue.
Roshan Thakor spent nearly four years developing the concept for Stone Hearth Indian Café, “an Indian version of Pei Wei” that he projects to open in early 2017.
Thakor’s concept fills a dining void Waco foodies have felt for years, though recently abated by the opening of Tandoori Trailer. He wants to ensure that everyone feels welcome amidst the foreign signs and smells, so he’s gone to great lengths to make the ordering experience a visual and personal one.
“You’ll walk up to the counter where you’ll be able to see the boards for your ordering,” Thakor said. “And then you’ll have a host that will explain the menu to you if you have questions. We want to make sure they are full of expertise. That’s one of the biggest things; guiding our customers through the menu is something that’s very important, especially for first-time customers.”
Diners will choose a protein (goat, beef, chicken, veggie, or paneer), starch (jeera rice, white rice, quinoa, or couscous), and sauce (tikka masala, jaffrazi, and vindaloo are three of the eight) for their bowl. Dishes can also come with fresh-baked naan, though decision paralysis may send you over the brink—there are 18 options to choose from, ranging from rosemary and sun-dried tomato to keema, a stuffed naan traditional to northern India with ground beef or goat.
Given the fast-casual designation, it makes sense that Stone Hearth’s menu would cater toward the on-the-go crowd. Thakor suggests doing as the locals do and using their lunch breaks to wolf down a biryani, a mixed rice dish with spices and meat.
“Indian people, if you’ve ever been to India, know that the city people are very fast-paced, and they love street food,” Thakor said. “It’ll have the same flavors; it’s how it’s done [baked] that will be different. Again, we’re talking organics and greens with that as well. The flavoring will go with each one as well—marinated meats, fresh paneer. It’ll be the best biryani you've ever tasted.”
Brian Luedeker, a Waco resident and graphic designer, said he’s excited about the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene, particularly having new cuisines to sample.
“I really dig Indian food,” Luedeker said. “I think it’ll be a really great place to hang downtown and see people that I haven’t in a long time.”
Stone Hearth will install its façade next month, though the interior work won’t be completed for a few months. Thakor said he’s working with locals, like Tony Bryant, who designed the mural, in hopes of connecting with other citizens looking to make Waco great—together.
“People are very excited to see us, and I’m excited to see them to and to work with them,” Thakor said. “When you’re working with other businesses to increase a community’s awareness and to work together with a community, it’s awesome. It brings value to everybody, and that’s what causes growth.”
Roshan Thakor has been in Waco since 2011, when he moved here to build and manage what is now the Red Roof Inn across I-35 from McLane Stadium. Originally from Fairfield, Texas, Thakor went on to study business at Blinn College in Brenham, TX before heading on study International Management Studies and Business Administration at the University of Texas at Dallas, located in RIchardson, TX. Gaining some restaurant experience working at Lombardi's Taverna in Dallas, a Northern Italian cuisine restaurant, Thakor decided to fill a much-needed gap in Waco's international cuisine market: Indian food.