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Hotel Worker Realizes Dream of Opening Jackson Heights Indian Restaurant

By Katie Honan | November 8, 2013 7:25am
 Samudra Restaurant features vegetarian food taken from both northern and southern Indian cuisines.
Vegetarian Restaurant Opens in Jackson Heights
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JACKSON HEIGHTS — Jagdish Shetty left India for New York City 28 years ago and got a job as a bus boy at the Sheridan Hotel in Manhattan.

In his nearly three decades in the city, Shetty worked nearly every job inside the large hotel, he said — from waiter to bartender and finally as an engineer.

But he always had his mind on something else.

"I had a dream to open a restaurant in New York," Shetty, 53, said. 

His dream came true on Halloween, when he opened Samudra Restaurant, a vegetarian eatery serving Indian dishes from both the southern and northern parts of the country.

Shetty, who lives in Flushing, said he's looked at spaces on and off for 10 years — but when he saw an empty space on 37th Avenue two months ago, he finally made the leap.

"The same day I looked at the place, that same day I decided to take over," he said of the space that had been a chicken restaurant.

He renovated the entire eatery, changing the kitchen and the interior, and opened on Halloween.

He let his wife, who is a stay-at-home mom to their 10-year-old twin daughters, select the name, which means "ocean" in Hindi, he said.

Notable items on the menu include dosas, served both plain and with fillings that include masala, paneer or spinach.

The Samudra specials highlight some of Shetty's favorites, like the upma, which is Cream of Wheat cooked with onions and Indian herbs; and Mumbai pav bhaji, which is a mix of vegetables cooked in tomato gravy and served with an Indian-style burger bun.

The menu also includes close to 20 curries, as well as a full selection of naan and roti.

Shetty's brother and other friends take care of the Samudra's day-to-day operations, while he still works at the Sheridan and Roosevelt hotels. He has plans to apply for a liquor license, and would eventually like to open up similar restaurants across the city.

The restaurateur said he chose Jackson Heights because of its popularity, especially with Indian restaurants. He said he hopes Samudra can quickly become a part of the local food scene. 

"I want to make a name — good service and good food," he said. "Not for the money, for the name."