Indian restaurant in NY sweetened Steve Jobs’ iPad deal – Tech News Today
Despite the hustle-bustle of its three bars and lounges, the group had its meeting in one of the several special private seating areas, without inviting any unnecessary attention. “The meeting was in the cellar lounge and Payal was personally taking the order. The Apple team had booked the table well in advance, but revealed only two hours before the meeting that Steve Jobs himself who would be attending,” Rajiv smiles as he recalls the moment, relaxing in his family home in Vadodara’s Gautam Nagar.
“They demanded complete secrecy. We met him briefly when he complimented us for the place and ordered another serving of mango lassi,” he adds.
Here, on their annual visit to their hometown, Rajiv and his vivacious wife Payal Sharma confess that they didn’t make much of the meeting then, but after Jobs died, and when his authorised biography written by renowned biographer, Walter Issacson came out, the real import of that event sank in.
“The book mentions his visit to Pranna on page 505, that’s when people started calling and visiting us to see the place where the great man once dined. We have now built a small shrine for him in the cellar lounge, and introduced the two dishes on our menu, Its our little tribute to the great man who made our place famous by his visit,” says Payal.
An unassuming family, the Sharmas keep a low profile and quietly slips in and out of Vadodara during annual sojourns from their adopted home in Long Island. Till the time Rajiv is not prodded, cajoled and bullied by close friends to talk about his work, there is no inkling of the high-profile status that his “mega Asian, super sexy” restaurant has earned for itself in the heart of New York City.
“At 22,000 sq ft, it’s the biggest restaurant, which is our dream child. We opened in the middle of recession in 2008, and the beginning was expectedly lukewarm. However, its popularity has now soared beyond all our expectations,” says the couple, reeling off names of celebrities who have dropped in for special events or its more famous Peoples’ Brunch every Saturday.
Megan Fox, Kirsten Dunst, Tyra Banks, Olivia Wilde, Jude Law, Hillary Swank, Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams, Jack Nicklaus, Chelsea Clinton, and Cristiano Ronaldo have all been spotted in Pranna restaurant and lounge in the past two years. Neither is Bollywood fraternity behind with likes of Imraan Khan, Shabana Azmi, Javed Khan, Anil Kapoor, Abhay Deol, Vivek Oberoi, Kailash Kher, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Atif Aslam having made due appearances.
“It was the launch party of the annual swimwear edition of Sports Illustrated in February 2009, four months after we opened in the middle of the recession, which made a huge difference,” Rajiv reveals. Today, the place, with its soaring roofs and expansive space built on three levels and exuding Zen-like atmosphere, is the toast of the town, which serves over 100 Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Indian dishes. “Pranna means ‘breath of life’ and we wanted our place to breathe in the busy Manhattan.”
And just think that this former corporate honcho did not ever want to step into the family profession two decades ago. Born in Ahmedabad and brought up in Vadodara, this naturalised Gujarati – whose father was from UP and the mother a Punjabi – hails from a family which brought the Kwality restaurant chain to Gujarat.
His father Baijnath Sharma moved to Baroda to open Volga. Rajiv studied in Rosary school and did his graduation and postgraduation in commerce from MS University and even taught there for a while, before he bagged a scholarship to study MBA at New York University. He had by then already rejected his dad’s offer to take over the family business.
“I build a career as a banker, working with Citibank and First Data Corporation, travelling all over the world. But, then came the offer of taking over ‘Akbar’, a Kwality group-owned restaurant in Long Island, and I couldn’t say no. I guess, it was in my blood,” says the man, who married Payal, a former Ms India New York, in the same restaurant.
Sensing a vaccum in the field of planning big, fat Indian weddings, the couple went on to build a lucrative but extremely busy career in wedding plannning, right from arranging mares in the US, decorating mandaps, to arranging DJs, dolis and the typical Indian wedding food.
Their restaurant ‘Sitar’ had become one of the most popular Indian restaurants. “But we were not satisfied. We wanted to do a mainstream restaurant where an average American would also feel at home. We then conceived Pranna,” he adds. It was huge investment, at almost $ 6-7 million, but today it has become a multi-million dollar operation, which employs 100 Americans.
They faced their share of problems, including landlords who did not want any Indian to open a restaurant on their property. Frequent change of chefs and a few lawsuits by the staff did not make things too easy. However, the family did not lose heart, and now, they are already on to their next step – to take Pranna into many more cities of the US.
Big, bigger, best
Weekly footfall at Pranna is close to 10,000. Every week, close to 100 cases of Johny Walker Black and Grey Goose Vodka each are consumed, besides thousands of other bottles of liquor and wines. The three bars stock beer from all over the world. At any given time, Pranna can accommodate 2,000 people with a seating capacity of 500. It has over 100 dishes for its small and large plates.
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