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Conversations with Niroop Prabhakar

Today we’d like to introduce you to Niroop Prabhakar.

Hi Niroop, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself

My name is Niroop C Prabhakar and I own and run the restaurant 615Chutney. 615Chutney started off with two letters “TN” (for Tennessee) written on a notepad. A “chutney” refers to a dipping sauce – a culinary secret that all South Asian Indians know – and is the only word in the vocabulary of Indian food that has the letters “TN” in it. TN is also the abbreviation for Tamil Nadu – a southern state in India that is proud of its heritage, culture, language, and most of all, its cuisine. So, the name 615Chutney holds a lot of meaning for me personally.
615Chutney started off as the only Indian food truck serving vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-Free South Indian food. The four fundamental techniques of South Indian cooking are frying, steaming, grilling (on a Griddle), and boiling. We used these four techniques to offer simple and delicious items on the food truck: idlis (steamed rice cakes), dosas (grilled crepes made with rice and lentil batter), pooris/samosas (fried breads and potato-filled snacks), and pongal (boiled rice with lentils and spices).
Our goal has always been  to bring South Indian cuisine (home-style cooking as well as street food) to the South.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
The food truck was all but six months old when East Nashville opened its arms and welcomed a 615Chutney restaurant in June 2019. We had a pretty sluggish start. Employee turnover was high and revenue was very low. We rallied hard, kept our focus, and continued to work hard. In March 2020, tornadoes hit East Nashville, the surrounding neighborhoods of Germantown, and Mt. Juliet. We lost power for a couple of days but were able to restart operations fairly quickly. However, Restaurant Depot and Sysco were also hit hard by the tornadoes forcing us to switch suppliers which was an unexpected ordeal for us.
April saw us butting heads with the looming pandemic and we were blindsided by the prospect of shutting down indoor dining and doing only take-outs. We realized that we would have to start thinking out of the box and change the way we ran 615Chutney. We decided to partner with an amazing online food service company called BentoBox. We started to see positive  changes afterwards and officially moved the online ordering part of our business to our own portal.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
My parents have always been my mentors and have always taught me that the customer is always right. My dad, being a banker,  always told me, “Do GOOD as much as you can. If you Can’t do GOOD, then at least don’t do BAD”. I have always tried to live by this principle. I feel proud of the fact that I have been able to introduce South Indian cuisine to Nashville.
I believe that customer service is key. The voices of the customers and the employees always matter in our company. We believe that if we treat the customers well and do all we can for them, then we have earned friends for life. This is the essence of hospitality for us – always put yourself in the customers’ shoes before making any decisions.
Besides stellar customer service, what also sets us apart is our unique cuisine. We are not a cookie-cutter Indian restaurant that mainly serves Naan and Chicken Tikka Masala. We are proud to call ourselves a “Non-Naan” Indian Restaurant. 615Chutney serves a very atypical, vegan South Indian bread called Parotta – a delicious, flaky bread with the texture of a croissant that everyone loves and craves.
We’d love to hear about how you think about risk-taking?
I had the good fortune of working for GE (General Electric) way back when I lived in India. I was always impressed by and admired Mr. Jack Welch – the CEO of GE at the time – for the kind of risk-taker he was. He used to say, “If you want risk-taking, set an example yourself and reward and praise those that do”. I really took that message to heart and had occasion to apply it in my life this year.
Due to mounting losses from the pandemic, We were forced to close the restaurant in April, 2021. When things started looking back up and we decided to reopen, it was impossible to find a spot in East Nashville again due to skyrocketing real estate prices. However, we had a potential spot available in Bellevue. Bellevue is a part of Nashville, located right off Interstate 40, that connects the East (Knoxville) to the West (Memphis). However, Bellevue has never had an Indian Restaurant so it was unexplored territory for us and a big risk. This was also the chatter on Social Media. In the end, I am so glad we decided to take the risk and here we are. Bellevue has embraced us in a way my team and I never expected. 615Chutney is very lucky and very happy to be in Bellevue.

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