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22-Year-Old Business Owner On Opening A Restaurant During A Pandemic


Starting a business at the best of times can be stressful, expensive and filled with many setbacks. But what happens when one of those setbacks is a global pandemic? Taj Sohal is the owner of Glassey in Washington, D.C. It's an Indian American fusion restaurant specializing in India's famous street food. And she joins us now. Welcome.

TAJ SOHAL: Hi. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This has made me hungry just introducing this. We should say you are 22 years old, so this is not only your first restaurant but your first business venture. This must be a lot to be doing this during this pandemic.

SOHAL: Yeah. A lot's been kind of an understatement lately since there isn't exactly a handbook on how to open up a business during a global pandemic. But I think we're making it work.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me how. I mean, take me back to when you were starting this and sort of your hopes and dreams before this all happened.

SOHAL: So, initially, we were set to open in March, and that was going to be, like, our grand opening date. And then that's kind of when the COVID crisis was really, like, hitting the U.S. and especially Washington, D.C., which was kind of unfortunate because I was hoping to, obviously, have this grand opening. And it's been over a year in the works of just construction and hard work and just getting our whole entire concept together and our team together.

And I just woke up one morning and was like, I think we can find a positive in this. Then we decided to open up on April 21. And basically, what we're doing is we're, like, ironing out all of our kinks. And it's nice to, like, not have a front-row audience like we usually would. And it's kind of, like, behind closed doors.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how has the business been going? I mean, you say it's time to work out the kinks, but, you know, it is a business. It means you hope to make a profit. What type of recalculations have you had to make?

SOHAL: Yeah. So the recalculations were significant because currently turning a profit is, like, almost out of the question because even if we do - like, we have had a lot of support. It's not going to be anywhere near it would be if we weren't in this situation. So I would say that, like, our profits are definitely, like, hindered.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about the emotional toll this has taken. I know people who've started restaurants, and it's a brutal business. The first six months can often be make or break, and you're having to deal with this.

SOHAL: I - yeah, I've definitely learned the make-or-break moments. What I didn't realize that the make it or break it - it's kind of, like, a everyday thing, where you're kind of really just trying to survive every single day. And it has been, like, extremely emotionally taxing, but I am blessed enough to, like, have my main chef be my mom. So honestly, I can't complain.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. This is the most important question. What's on the menu for today? I do know - because I live in D.C. - that there has been a lot of chatter about your crabby fries (laughter).

SOHAL: Oh, yeah (laughter). Yeah. So what I did is growing up, me and my siblings - we were bratty and didn't want to eat traditional Indian food and would just prefer McDonald's and fries. So my mom would come up with, like, creative ways to, like, get us to eat it, so it would be, like, the best of both worlds. So that's where I came up with the crabby fries, which is the traditional Indian flavors with crab on top of fries. And then as well as our masala fries have been very popular and along with our chicken burger and our Tikki burger.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, Taj Sohal - she is the owner of Glassey in Washington, D.C. And we wish you all the best.

SOHAL: Thank you so much. And hope to see you all soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.