Developing Diversity in Downtown

 As Waco's only Indian Restaurant, Stone Hearth serves a bourgening population of diners searching for authentic ethnic cuisine.

As Waco's only Indian Restaurant, Stone Hearth serves a bourgening population of diners searching for authentic ethnic cuisine.

 Clay Pot Vietnamese Restaurant plans to cease service at their I-35 location on June 30 to prepare for the pending downtown move.

Clay Pot Vietnamese Restaurant plans to cease service at their I-35 location on June 30 to prepare for the pending downtown move.

As Waco continues to grow, so does the call for variety in its offerings. For many in the area who can’t afford to travel the globe, eating ethnic food represents the easiest way to experience a foreign culture.

Two minority restaurateurs are bringing their culinary heritage to downtown in hopes of keeping Wacoans’ plates and perspectives full.

“Because of all the progress that’s happening [in Waco], people are even more outcrying for some cultural ethnicity to shine,” said Roshan Thakor, owner of Stone Hearth Indian Café at 516 Austin Avenue. “They want to see the city spread with different people, different colors, different vibrancy, different foods.” 

 One of the new menu items at Stone Hearth Indian Cafe.

One of the new menu items at Stone Hearth Indian Cafe.

After a soft opening this past weekend, Thakor’s restaurant officially unveiled its full menu today, replete with Indian classics like tikka masala, biryani, pani puri, and samosa. It also offers an array of vegetarian and vegan options unmatched in the area.

Everything in the restaurant - the color schemes evoking traditional saris, the mudra hand signs on the wall, the open kitchen wafting sensational aromas throughout the space – harkens to the speed and “ordered chaos” that is a part of daily Indian life.

“It’s our hustle bustle pace of trying to get out dishes as fast as they can because you have hungry people ready," Thakor said. "It's just part of the culture. It’s quite magical if you ask me.”

Thanh Le and her husband, Fong, own Clay Pot Vietnamese Restaurant located at I-35 and 10th Street. The Le family routinely takes trips to Vietnam to acquire authentic items, like a large dragon, that will transport diners across the Pacific while enjoying food in the comfort of downtown Waco.

 Thanh and Fong Le, owners of Clay Pot Vietnamese Restaurant

Thanh and Fong Le, owners of Clay Pot Vietnamese Restaurant

   P   hở,  a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, from Clay Pot Vietnamese Restaurant

Phở, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, from Clay Pot Vietnamese Restaurant

“I’m trying to get the history from Vietnam to the new restaurant,” Thanh Le said. “There’s a travel that can happen, a little education from my restaurant.”

Clay Pot will move to 416 Franklin Avenue later this summer, nestled in between Barnett’s Public House and True Love Bar.

“Looking for a location, we tried to stay near Baylor,” Le said. “Downtown is growing up and I want to be a part of the downtown area and bring the culture to the area. That’s why we’re expanding a lot for this location.”

That these restaurateurs feel confident bringing their businesses downtown shows just how much the streets, and Wacoans’ tastes, have developed in the past decade. The number of vacant buildings and empty parking lots in downtown seems to decrease daily, though that had not been the case until recently.

Clint Trimble has lived and worked downtown for four years, first as a bartender at Dichotomy and now as Stone Hearth’s general manager, and has witnessed its transformation firsthand.

“People are remembering that a downtown is meant to be alive and vibrant, and that vibrant life is branching out from just what you would think of as typical Wacoans into different ethnic groups and sects of people,” Trimble said.

The owners of Waco’s only Indian and Vietnamese restaurants believe that sharing the best parts of their culture through food will broaden customers’ horizons.

“More culture, variety, and choice will bring [people] downtown more,” Le said.

Thakor agreed that increased options would draw people to the area who otherwise might not have visited.

“It’s always good to have other diversified foods,” Thakor said. “Clay Pot originally was on 35 and with them coming to downtown, that’s just another addition to bring downtown back to life."

Thakor is excited to be a part of the first wave of restaurants in the city core to provide a unique cultural culinary experience.

“I think it’s great. I can’t wait. The more the merrier right now.”