Satinder "Pappu" Singh, the affable chef-owner of Kurry Kabab, worked 13 years as a cab driver in New York City in order to raise the money to open his restaurant in Northfield in 2005. In another week or so, he and his wife, Nikki, will return to New York and he'll get back behind the wheel of a cab again.
"We spent $200,000, plus seven years here," Singh said. "We loved serving the people of Northfield, but we cannot make it."
A combination of the recession, Northfield's cost-conscious restaurant market and the financial difficulties of Kurry Kabab's landlord led to the closing.
"We did the hard work," Singh said.
The restaurant opened in 2005 and quickly established itself as a lunch and dinner destination, as well as a catering option. Kurry Kabab often catered Indian weddings in the Twin Cities as well as local events, he noted. When the recession hit in 2008, business declined though Kurry Kabab's rent had increased, Singh said.
"This is a kid's town," he said, where college and high school students eat out more frequently than other residents and drive the restaurant market. "In this small town, if you raise the prices, you lose the customer."
Kurry Kabab's financial difficulties were compounded in 2011 when the restaurant lost its liquor license due to unpaid property taxes by the restaurant's landlord, Heritage Square, LLC. The restaurant was without a liquor license for more than a month before the Northfield City Council approved a waiver that allowed the restaurant to serve wine and beer.
At the time, Singh described the license revocation as "a business buster," and that proved true. Since 2011, there has been a severe drop in customers, Singh said.
A Fickle Market
In many ways, Singh beat the odds in the restaurant business.
An Ohio State University study found that one out of four restaurants close within the first year, and about 60 percent close or change hands within the first three years.
The challenge for restaurants and other retail stores is to stay fresh and "top-of-mind" with their customers, said Sian Muir, who teaches marketing, entrepreneurship, arts management and management policy and strategy at St. Olaf College. Kurry Kabab also may have struggled because of its "difficult location in a strip mall," said Muir, who noted that most consumers are "fickle" about restaurants.
"Customers are always looking for something new and different, so restaurants tend to do better when they first open," Muir says. "If you are not on the main street, you've got to let people know where you are."
Future for Singh
Singh said he is hoping to sell some of his equipment to another restaurateur, but he and his family will move back to New York City, where his brother also drives a cab.