STORY BY RODRIGO SEPULVEDA SAGASETA, PHOTO BY EMILY MCNALLY
Gurinder Singh was stumped. The pandemic had crippled his Modesto banquet hall’s business, canceling all his bookings and making the 9,000 square foot operation far too costly to maintain — and the end of the pandemic was nowhere in sight. He had to shut it down.
So Singh found his life at a standstill. Should he take a break? Should he visit friends in Canada, Malaysia and Australia? Those questions ultimately went undecided, but it eventually became clear to him that he could no longer sit around at home: And the vision for INdGO was born.
Simple yet delicious Indian to-go food to satisfy everyone from an avid Indian food eater to a curious person hoping to start exploring the magic and flavor of the cuisine. Singh personally prepares and cooks this food to perfection, but also underwent the struggle of attracting people to his relatively unknown restaurant.
While INdGO — the name of which stands for Indian To-Go — radiates simplicity, Singh’s journey in opening the restaurant has been much more complicated.
Founded in the middle of a pandemic, INdGO is one among many restaurants and small businesses trying to survive the likes of few clients, rising prices and staff shortages, until things can fully reopen and people come back.
INdGO boasts a classic menu with a few special add-ons including the likes of butter chicken, mushroom makhani, and for those wanting something simpler, fire-grilled salmon in a delicious coconut and onion sauce.
All his dishes are inspired by the journey and barriers he had to break early on. Having grown up in India, he said his parents expected him to become a doctor or engineer — but he wanted to be none of the above.
Frantically, his parents sent him off to culinary school in Switzerland in hopes that he would find success there.
Initially, he was able to take advantage of Europe’s low drinking age and manage the school’s bar, but he quickly developed a passion for cooking. But he struggled with European cuisine, as it consists of much less seasoning than the food he was accustomed to, or as Singh described it, a mix of only “salt and black pepper.” To the disapproval of his professor, he would sneak seasonings like chili powder into his dishes.
With his newfound passion for cooking, Singh traveled around the world to destinations like California, Australia and India to share his culinary talents before ultimately settling down and opening up his own banquet hall near Modesto. It took Singh nine months to remodel and remake the place with many menu items; a stark contrast to INdGO. Although business was slow at first, Singh said he was fully booked for 2020.
“But then the pandemic hit, and parties started canceling,” Singh said. “And then, I just said to myself, ‘I don’t know how long it’s gonna last,’ so [I] just [tried] to get rid of the place, because it’s a huge space and it [was] gonna cost more to maintain [it].”
But moving on wouldn’t be so easy, as Singh struggled to decide what to do next.
Eventually, while visiting Mountain View, he found a small space that would fit his vision of a simple Indian restaurant — although the journey of INdGo would be anything but simple.
Only a few weeks into running his new restaurant, Singh contracted COVID-19, and was forced to temporarily shut INdGO down. Luckily, only getting a mild case, Singh was eager to get back to his restaurant after his 14 day quarantine. Although getting back to work wasn’t as easy as he expected.
“My body would start hurting. I would work for 10 minutes and be out of breath,” Singh said.
Singh soon encountered other struggles like slow business, staff shortages and rising ingredient prices. He said that the staffing shortage has required him to “wear all kinds of hats,” from cooking and washing dishes to fixing broken machines.
But Singh, who himself knew of the complexities of opening a restaurant, blames no one but himself for the rocky start. With critics often questioning if Singh was “crazy” for opening a restaurant mid-pandemic, Singh confidently responds, “I am crazy, yes.”
Hopefully, INdGO isn’t one of the many businesses Singh predicts will have to close doors in the following months, and Singh will be able to continue spreading his charismatic and outgoing personality through his cooking.
“What are you going to do?” Singh said.“[Even] before COVID, this was a tough business. Now it will take some time to get [people] back.”
“COVID has to disappear altogether. The prices of food have to come down and the employees have to come back,” Singh said. “That’s when we can get back to normal.”
INdGO is a take-out only business due to its limited space, but patrons can call at (650) 386-1725 or order online Tuesday–Sunday from 11:30 am–3pm and 4:20 pm–8:30pm on DoorDash or at https://www.in-d-go.com/.
Carly Heltzel contributed to the reporting on this story.