By Parveen Chopra
Rajbhog Hicksville is celebrating 20 years of successfully serving the community. Talking to The South Asian Times, Sheetal Talati, its owner, says they are celebrating a milestone; it is a big achievement in itself to survive for so many years in any market these days. She plans an event with dignitaries, patrons and neighbors on June 20 in their store on the part of South Broadway now called ‘Little India’.
Rajbhog Foods, the patent company, is actually 40 years old, and was founded by her uncle and aunt Ajit Mody and Lata Mody with a sweet shop in Jackson Heights. From sweets they expanded to catering and Indian street food. They manufacture their own snacks and eggless cookies. Over the years, the company grew exponentially, and today it is a leading brand with a wide network of cafés, franchise outlets across the country. They proudly supplied meals to airlines such as Air India, United, British Airways and Delta till last year when Covid disrupted everything.
Sheetal’s was the 2nd or 3rd store to come up under Rajbhog umbrella and the Hicksville franchise is solely owned by her.
Rajbhog Hicksville has been serving the Long island community since 2001 with its motto of “Quality, Affordability, Integrity & Service”. The cosy cafe has seating for 40 people, free WiFi and live TV. It is known for the best chaats on Long Island and has the most homely “Thali” for lunch and dinner. Besides hot favorites of Pav Bhaji & Chole Poori, fusion items like Paninis, Club Sandwich and Kathi Rolls are also a hit with South Asians. Food is prepared on location, but packed snacks and sweets are made in her two factories in Port Washington and New Jersey.
How did Rajbhog cope with Covid-19? Says Sheetal Talai, “Like the entire restaurant industry, we were also hit very badly. But instead of shutting shop, we decided to keep running and donate meals to frontline workers in hospitals and the needy. That was gratifying for us and I could keep my employees on payroll as well.” From April to July last year, she says, they gave out over 10,000 meals.
People are coming back to her café, which is following the CDC guidelines of sanitation and safe distancing. But her catering business, especially Gujarati and North Indian catering, which was the bulk of her business, is only now seeing an uptick. Her future plans? She says, “We are looking to expand our online business, and working closely with our parent company we are trying to develop an online menu and food delivery, keeping in mind the trend of people ordering online and working from home.
Her husband Akshay Talati, she says, is very supportive and even gives his time to her business, but he has his own career in cosmetics research. They have two children, a son, 25, who is a pharmacist, and a law student daughter.