Vijay Bansode is bringing his signature Indian food to Gay Street in a form that's approachable for the average East Tennessean.
"Just imagine Chipotle, but Indian," he told Knox News about his new Aroma Express concept, scheduled to open at the corner of West Vine Avenue and the 100 block of Gay Street by the end of November.
But that's not all: Short-term rentals and a convenience store also are planned for the property at 143 S. Gay Street. The store would stock produce and other groceries downtown dwellers might need in a pinch.
That includes charcoal, bread, condiments and beverages, said Chirag Patel, a partner in the redevelopment project. Patel has been in the convenience store business for 30 years, he said, with locations in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Filling needs in the city's core
Patel said he and his partners purchased the building last year under MKC Properties LLC. Records show the cost was $1.1 million.
As nearby housing projects come online, including Capitol Lofts planned just steps away on West Vine Avenue, Patel sees an increased need to provide convenience items to a growing downtown population.
An August report from Knox News examined the potential need for a downtown grocery store. Roughly 2,600 people were living downtown at the time, compared to just 1,100 in 2000.
While the unnamed convenience store won't provide everyone's grocery needs, it will fill an important niche downtown. Aroma Express also will fill the need for more fast casual options in the city's core.
Adapting to modern food culture
Bansode previously owned Indian restaurants in Alabama but sold his shares before returning to Knoxville last year. He has since found success with Aroma Indian Kitchen, a full-service concept he and his partners opened in Cedar Bluff.
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The downtown "express" version of the restaurant will allow customers to order wraps or bowls, starting with a choice between white or yellow rice. Customers then will select between red beans or chickpeas with Indian seasonings before picking from one of Bansode's signature sauces.
Proteins will come in the form of steak, chicken and a rotating option. Guests can also choose veggies before adding cheese, corn or Indian-style cucumber salad.
"Nowadays, people are leaning toward that kind of food culture," Bansode said about casual made-to-order concepts.
Food would be ordered at a counter, and guests would be able to choose from roughly 25 multi-colored chairs scattered around the space and in the restaurant's windows. The partners plan to leave the exposed bricks, Patel said, but could project the restaurant's logo onto the wall for a modern touch.
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A room with a view on Gay Street
"Modern" will be the theme for the short-term rentals planned for the building's second story, said Mohit Mankad, a partner in the project. The partners are working to build two units that would share a rooftop patio.
Patel said they also are building a single apartment unit.
While the restaurant and convenience store are scheduled to open around the same time, Patel said, the short-term rentals could take longer to build out.
The restaurant space is roughly 1,800 square feet, he said, while the convenience store would be around 2,200 square feet.
The restaurant would be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the week. If the restaurant is successful, Bansode said he would consider opening another express concept in Knoxville.
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Source : https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2021/10/21/downtown-knoxville-gay-street-indian-food-groceries-short-term-rentals/6108359001/1526