Haresh Mehta already has conquered the grocery business. Now, he's moving on to restaurants.
Mehta -- the Indian immigrant who came to the United States with little more than a pocketful of dreams in 1996 -- this month opened Flavors of India on Herlong Avenue in Rock Hill. The restaurant offers a wide selection of favorite foods from India and Asia and a full bar.
For Mehta, the restaurant is his second attempt at running a successful business. He's hoping it turns out as fruitful as the first.
In 1996, Mehta and his wife, Urvashi, immigrated to New York City from Bombay, India, he said. While Urvashi, a physician at Piedmont Medical Center, completed a residency in New York, Mehta labored selling beer and cigarettes at 7-11 convenience stores and peddling coffee at Dunkin Donuts.
After moving to Fort Mill a few years ago, Mehta decided to parlay his 7-11 experience and savings into a store of his own. He opened Bright Mart, a 6,000-square-foot Indian grocery store in south Charlotte.
"It's like an Indian Wal-Mart," Mehta said recently while preparing his restaurant for its grand opening. "I was supplying most of the Indian restaurants in Charlotte, and I noticed most of them were buying frozen foods. I thought if I ever opened a restaurant, I would use fresh food and have an advantage."
And that's what he's trying to do. Mehta said after studying the restaurant market for the past year, he zeroed in on locations in Rock Hill because the city doesn't have many options for ethnic foods compared with Charlotte, and he saw the potential for growth.
"I think in a couple of years, there will be no gap between Rock Hill and Charlotte," Mehta said. "When you drive through Exit 82C (on Interstate 77) at 5:30 p.m., you realize how many people live here."
Flavors of India's location at 489 Herlong Ave. is in the same plaza as Schoolhouse Exchange consignment shop and Market on Herlong sandwich shop. It's also next to PW's Gourmet Ice Cream.
"I'm just hoping it will bring more traffic to the complex," said Dewitt Ferguson, owner of Market on Herlong. The space has been empty since a Mexican restaurant closed earlier this year, and he said it will be good to fill the vacancy with another restaurant.
"I'm sure they'll develop a regular clientele," he said. "More traffic means more people. Maybe some will venture down here."
Mehta, who still owns Bright Mart and splits his time between the two businesses, fashioned his menu at Flavors of India around the regions of India. He serves mostly fresh foods on a buffet at lunch and as entrees at dinner. While some Indian dishes are known for a spicy kick, Mehta's menu includes both the traditional curry-flavored chicken, beef and lamb choices and also a vegetarian menu. The 106-item menu includes some Chinese and American dishes, too.
Understanding the demand for Indian food is limited in Rock Hill, Mehta said he hopes to attract newcomers with a $7.99 lunch buffet, where first-timers can sample different dishes. He also believes the full bar with Indian beer and live entertainment on the weekends will help him compete with Charlotte counterparts.
"I know it's hard at first to get started," Mehta said. "But eventually, people will realize the quality is better here. So why can't people from Pineville and Ballantyne come here if it's good food?"
WANT TO GO?
• What: Flavors of India, an Indian lunch buffet, restaurant and bar
• Where: 489 S. Herlong Ave., Rock Hill, next to PW's Gourmet Ice Cream
• Lunch buffet hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
• Dinner hours: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
• Owner: Haresh Mehta
• Phone: 985-4321
• Web site: www.flavorsofindiafoods.com