In our case, it is 110% true when we say that we are here because of our customers. We absolutely never intended to be owners of an Indian restaurant. I have a Masters degree in education with a concentration in child development. I have always loved working with children and have worked with many children with autism as well as medically fragile children that are under constant supervision if medical professionals. I was working in a unique program with a classroom full of medically fragile children and nurses when the pilot study came to an end due to failure of Medicaid agreeing to fund this program. While I was searching for another position, my husband, with a degree in Business Management, lost his job of 10 years as a manager at Kangaroo due illness.
Everything changed at that point and he decided to do a short term lease and run a gas station. I decided to help him for a little while. The gas station had a small grill in which we decided to sell pre-made sandwiches. We were there for long hours and often made our personal meals there. Customers began asking about the “wonderful smell”. We started sharing our food, often chicken biryani, with our customers for free. Many came back for more and then we decided to sell our biryani in the clear sandwich containers for $1.99, the same container which we now use for our cakes. Then we started selling bigger portions for $3.99, still in clear sandwich containers.
One day, one regular customer from across the street, asked us about Chicken Tikka Masala. Next day, we made and sold our first Chicken Tikka Masala with rice and Roghani Naan for $2.99! After this there was no turning back. We slowly gained more customers who began to complain about food leaking into their cars and that is when we found our black take out containers, which we still use.
Slowly we began to run out of space with only two stove tops and no room to grow. We began looking for a small, affordable space to move into. We found one close by in MacGregor Village. At the time, we thought all we needed to do was take our stove tops, our equipment and order some dining room furniture and we could open for business. Thus, all we had money saved up for was the dining room furniture. With this expectation and the delivery date of the furniture, we set the opening date as November 12, 2013.
Had we read the literature we came across during the months it actually took us to re-open, we would not have made the decision to open Cilantro in MacGregor Village. First of all, we did not have hundreds of thousands of dollars that one needs to open the restaurant. We actually did not even have thousands of dollars to use after ordering our furniture. This being the reason why our storefront sign says only “CILANTRO” as opposed to our original plan “CILANTRO Indian Café”. (Thankfully the sign was updated in 2019, when the shopping center was remodeled). Therefore, we had dining room furniture, some used kitchen equipment, no license, no permits, no money and no idea what to do next.
If it was not for our loyal customers who were nothing short of awesome, we would have bailed and have gone back to work. It took us 4 long months, with no income, to get ready to open. It felt like 4 long years because we were so clueless as what to do next. While struggling inside, trying to get things ready, our customers would knock on the door from time to time and ask about when the new expected open date was and how they were going through “withdrawal” from our food. This is probably the only thing that made us say “okay let’s wait and try a little longer”. On our second opening date, December 2, 2014, the phones ran off the hook. We sat there, with tears in my eyes, not knowing what to say to our customers because we had absolutely no idea when we were going to be open for business.
We visited Town of Cary, along with our twenty month old practically every other day trying to get everything together. For every step forward, it seemed as if we took two steps backward. At this point we ate at our parents’ house. For other meals, we ate and drank what was left from the gas station. Even our children’s lunches were just snacks and drinks left over from the gas station. I gave up and applied to jobs, sadly knowing that lack of our full time attention would delay our opening even more. Unfortunately, employers were not eager to hire someone for only a few weeks and I did not want to lie about the length of my employment.
We prayed and began our final inspections with the Town of Cary. With each inspection, we held our breath that everything be okay. Everyone from Town of Cary walked us through each step several times to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible for us. It felt like the inspectors were sent directly from God. If this were not the case, we would have probably broken apart. We passed our final inspection on Tuesday, February 25, 2014. We hired two employees the next day and opened for business on Friday, February 28, 2014. We were so very, very, very happy to post this date on our website. When we opened our doors on Friday, we had no “Now Open” sign and no money left in our pockets that we can place in the cash register! We had to request to our customers to please use credit/debit cards for we did not have any money to give them change if necessary.
A couple of months ago, we found out that we were voted “Best Indian Restaurant” in Cary! We were just as surprised as we were happy. We wanted to thank all our customers for everything. A few years back, if someone would have predicted that we would have an Indian restaurant, we would have said that they were totally crazy! Usually restaurants open and then customers come. In our case, our customers came and then we opened our restaurant for them. To all our customers out there, we thank you with all our hearts. We would not have existed if it were not for you and the will of God!