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A spicy, curry-based entrepreneurial venture

Chinese, Japanese, Greek, Italian, French, Mexican, American, Mexican-American. You name a cuisine, we've got a place that serves it. Well, almost. You name a cuisine and if it doesn't come from a country between Pakistan and Bangladesh and below China, or bring to mind images of sacred cows and Abu from The Simpsons, we've got it.

That's right, folks. While downtown Princeton has cuisine from just about every corner of the globe, India, a nation of a billion people and me, homeland to boot, goes unrepresented on Nassau Street. Of course, if you own a car this doesn't really matter since Mercer Mall, home to Palace of Asia, is only a few minutes away. However, if you're dependent on your bike or your limbs for transportation, you're not gettin' no curry. Apart from the fact that Princetonians are deprived of what I believe to be one of the finest cuisines in the world, this detracts from Princeton's ability to remain engaged in the service of all nations. Nuh uh. If it don't serve Tandoori chicken, it don't serve me.

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Jokes aside, there are some good reasons why there should be an Indian restaurant on Nassau. My goal here shall be to convince you, the departing Princeton upperclassman, why you should consider opening one.

First, there is the undeniable fact that Indian cuisine is pretty popular, not just with us Indians, but with normal human beings as well. Indian restaurants have flourished for years in the U.K. and in Canada, with London boasting of more Tandoori joints than Bombay. While there are not nearly as many in the U.S., this is quite understandable, as the Indian immigrant community was quite small until a few decades ago and has always been more dispersed than other communities. Also, a very high proportion of Indians in this country, unlike their counterparts across the Atlantic or, say, East Asian immigrants to the U.S, entered as highly qualified professionals and did not have to start small businesses to support themselves. So, while there are numerous Indian restaurants in London and a Chinatown, Indian restaurants are less common in just about every major American city.

However, the ones that do exist generally find that it is not difficult to attract business. Many Americans have tried Indian food on one occasion or another, and quite a few like the stuff. Thus, when an Indian restaurant opens near their home or workplace, they are well-known, and according to the people at Palace of Asia, do pretty good business.

Princeton, in particular, is an ideal location for such an establishment. The presence of a few hundred Indian families in the area, about two hundred South Asian students at the university (and their friends who will inevitably be dragged along for meals), and a diverse community of students who are ever on the lookout for interesting cultural experiences virtually guarantee the success of such a venture, were someone to take the initiative and start it.

And you'd make a killing on dorm deliveries too. Imagine being able to order Indian food from your dorm room the way you order sushi or pizza. Anybody who has ever been to Harvard knows what I'm talking about. There are no less than five Indian restaurants flourishing within two blocks of Harvard Square. Granted, their student population is considerably larger than ours. However, it is still possible for at least one more restaurant to succeed in Tiger Town.

What's in it for you? Rather, how much is in it for you? Quite a bit, actually. It would cost you $3,000 to $5,000 a month to rent a nice cozy place on Witherspoon or Nassau. Throw in another $50,000 a year for the chef, twenty five each for an assistant and two waiters. That's a current expenditure of between $150,000 and $200,000 a year. Palace of Asia does business worth $1.3 million a year. You probably wouldn't be able to run a place as fancy as their joint, where dinner costs $30 a person. You'd be looking at running something closer to, say, Soonja's – a place nice enough to dine at but inexpensive enough for deliveries. A place where one could by dinner for $15 a plate. However, you'd get much more business than them, partly because of a downward sloping demand curve and partly because of proximity to the university, dorm deliveries, and so on.

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So lets estimate your annual business volume to be $800,000-$900,000 a year (very conservative estimate). According to the general manager at Palace of Asia, about 20% of their business volume is profit. So you could annually make between $150,000 and $200,000, a year or two out of college. And those are conservative estimates. The startup costs (tables, chairs, etc.) wouldn't come to more than say $30,000 (another very safe estimate) – pretty low when you think about the earnings potential of the place. And I haven't even counted what you'd make when and if you decided to sell the business.

So let's see. You make great money – up to what investment bankers make in their late twenties if they're very good and very lucky. You can save for B-school or L-school or whatever school you want to attend. Or save to start a bigger business in another field. It's way more exciting than creating Excel spreadsheets for Goldman Sachs or Power Point presentations for McKinsey. It'll probably look better on your resume too – I mean, how many applicants with a Princeton degree and experience running a highly successful restaurant does Wharton get?

Why don't I do it myself? Well, for starters I'm not an American citizen. That means I can't work in your beautiful country without selling my soul (and a hundred hours of my week) to J.P. Morgan. More generally speaking, however, I'm perfectly willing to admit that I don't have the guts. But then, as Charles Barkley used to say on TV, I am not a role model. Let me end with a story about two people who are.

Sometime in the fifties, a smart Jewish kid graduated McGill at the top of the economics department. Instead of going on to work in a bank or corporation, he decided to open a Chinese restaurant in Montreal. Five years or so later, he quit and went to grad school here. Forty years later, he's still in the economics department.

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Want to discuss the idea with him? Call 8-6100 and ask to speak to Harold Shapiro. Exception, you say. When he started the restaurant his twin brother Bernard joined him in the venture. Being somewhat less cool than Hal, Bernie went to grad school at Harvard. Forty years later, he's at McGill. And there are no prizes for guessing what his job is there. I'm telling you again, it's an amazing idea. If the Shapiros could do it, why not you?

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