Q&A with ... Chef Prasad Chirnomula, owner of new Main Street restaurant
NEW CANAAN — Prasad Chirnomula, also known as Chef Prasad, paces around his new, eponymous restaurant on 62 Main Street.
“We have a soft opening on June 4,” Chirnomula said. The black-and-white floor tiles shine as if they’ve been just cleaned; various lamps and light bulbs bring out the cerulean color of the walls.
Chef Prasad is Chirnomula’s latest venture in a lengthy career in the hospitality and culinary industry. A 2006 New York Times article labeled his restaurant Thali in New Haven as “excellent,” but in the years since, Chirnomula has had to adapt to the ever changing business landscape, closing down several of his restaurants and reconfiguring his latest one.
Chirnomula talked about his current plans and culinary trajectory.
Q: How did you get into cooking?
A: I come from a family of doctors — my father is a doctor and my cousins too. They wanted me to be the same, but I didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t my thing. It didn’t look like fun to me.
I liked hospitality, luxury and the multiple dining scenes. I started culinary college and I loved what my mom was cooking. Even today, I try to get my mom’s recipes and cook like her.
My parents are now in Orlando and they’re visiting me to celebrate my opening.
Q: When did you come to the United States?
A: I came to America in 1986. America was the land of opportunity — before coming here I had been the beverage director at age 22 and my vision was to come here and do the same job, but it wasn’t the case.
I lacked the local experience, so I had to rethink and I worked in Long Island and New York City helping the cooks and chefs. I had to wash dishes too and this wasn’t easy because you’re the son of a doctor in India, raised pretty well and here I am cooking and coming back at 4 a.m. with the chilly weather.
From 1986 to 1992, I was with a couple of restaurants. I had been recommended, so I opened some with some 10 partners.
Q: How did you get your start in Connecticut?
A: I’ve been in town since 1999. This locale used to be Thali (and then India for six months) and it was my flagship restaurant in Connecticut. I’ve had restaurants in Ridgefield, New Haven, Westport and three in New Haven.
I was a partner of restaurants in Connecticut since the early 1990s but I opened my own in 1999, and that really became a big hit and was a destination for people from New York to Hartford. You get an accolade and want to do more, so from 1999 to 2017 I grew to have eight locations which included a Mexican restaurant, Oaxaca, and Thali.
Q: What led you to close down so many restaurants?
A: There is a lot going on with the business.
In the early 2000s, lots of restaurants came up over time and the competition got tougher, which is a good thing as it keeps you on your toes. At some point, there were too many seats and not enough people in some of the towns where I was. I had to rethink my financial vision of the business.
My brand and food had been successful, but I think with a growing amount of competition and third-party delivery businesses like Grubhub and DoorDash, those are not part of my business plan.
My bottom line was not meeting expenses and I felt like I was working for other people because of management and I wanted to revamp. In 2017, I closed down five restaurants. After I closed Thali in New Canaan, I opened India in town and also in West Hartford.
I had to make decisions on closing and step back a little bit. It’s emotional — it feels like you’re losing a child. You’re attached to the clientele and a lot of the clients I’ve seen grow up. Parents become grandparents, kids become adults and the like.
Q: How was it after closing down so many restaurants?
A: It took some time for me to rethink what I wanted to do and if I wanted to be in Connecticut. I was thinking of New York City, Tennessee, California or Texas. I got calls from New Canaan clientele, so there’s a lot of good memories and a solid client base that I’ve established over so many years.
I decided to stay and redesign the benches, the furniture, the walls and the ceilings. I closed India in November last year. I love cooking and I love food, and blood flows in me when I want to open a restaurant.
This is a totally different design. It looks like a small bit of Rajasthan, a region in northern India known for its beautiful architecture.
Q: How do you feel about your new restaurant?
A: I spend a good amount of time in New Canaan. This is the first restaurant I open with my name on it. I wanted a signature restaurant with a boutique feel and small, not for the masses.
There are 42 seats which are intimate, and the food speaks for itself. It’s always been very good. I’m not trying to put in a bulk of hours. I’m 55 and this is a kind of slow retirement process where I can spend a good time with my family, but I’ll definitely be the face of the business.