INdGO: Simple yet delicious Indian to-go food to satisfy everyone

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. 

Singh is pictured in his kitchen.

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.

Beyond satisfying local sweet tooths, Los Altos’ Sweet Shop is a community staple

STORY BY CARLY HELTZEL AND SIDDHANT KANWAR, PHOTOS BY EMILY MCNALLY

Harry Logan is such a regular at the Sweet Shop on Los Altos Ave. that the register has a special key just to ring up his order: a ham and scrambled egg sandwich with a coffee au lait.

The Sweet Shop — which likely has many patrons with a sweeter tooth than Logan’s — strives to have “something for everyone,” although there are some clear favorites. The staff at the shop have largely concluded that the Sour Rainbow Belts and Sour Patch Kids are the most appealing to kids, while adults seem to have a more refined taste, preferring dark chocolate. 

Apart from candy, the Sweet Shop also sells savory items, such as the “Croissantwich” (a croissant with eggs and melted cheese), or the “Egg White Skinny” (a croissant with egg whites, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and spinach).

Most of the recipes for the savory meals are made by Sandra Colunga, the store’s manager, and taste-tested by employees. Colunga, apparently, tries to come up with healthier food options to counterbalance the sweetness. 

Harry Logan sits on the Sweet Shop patio. (Carly Heltzel)

As Logan — a Los Altos resident of 51 years, who has frequented the shop almost every day for the past 11 years — could tell you, the property has changed hands many times through the years (he nostalgically recounted the story of when his son tried to pay for a Tootsie Roll at Foodland with a $100 bill, only to later be busted for stealing it from his mom’s purse). 

But despite the Sweet Shop’s relatively recent history, Logan said that it’s definitively the best shop that has been there, and by far the one he has visited most frequently.

Sitting in the quaint parlor for a few hours every morning and striking up conversations with anyone who is willing to hear his war stories or talk about their own hopes and dreams, the loyal customer perfectly embodies the heartwarming atmosphere of this community-oriented and historical local business.

NEIGHBORHOOD-CENTERED

Twelve years ago, Stacy Savides Sullivan and her family bought the unusual property — which sits in the middle of a residential area — after it had been on the market for four years, and renovated it before opening the doors in August of 2009. With the hope that it would once again become an active part of the community, the Sweet Shop was born.

“[Sullivan] saw the opportunity and said ‘What if we buy this property, fix it up, and bring it back to give something back to the community,’” Colunga said. “And part of that was because when she was in high school, when there would be a special occasion, she and her friends would ride their bikes here and get one piece of candy. So there was some history for her personally as well.”

Since its beginning, the Sweet Shop has consistently retained its high school employees for around three to four years, some even staying through their years at community college. One such worker, Dania Zavala, an employee of three years, said that she has stuck around because “the hours are great and the people are great.” 

The Sweet Shop as viewed from Los Altos Ave. (Emily McNally)

“[The customers] are all regulars for the most part, so we know them by name, and they’re just really nice and they take the time to actually learn our names,” Zavala said. “Because of that, it’s just like a neighborhood.”

The friendly neighborhood aspect and close proximity to school make the Sweet Shop a local hotspot for elementary and middle schoolers, with mayhem ensuing when minimum days roll around. 

“It’s fun — super fun — but it’s non-stop for a couple of hours,” Colunga said. “[On] minimum days often kids can get sandwiches and candy and the whole thing. It’s just full of kids and bicycles and chaos.”

Normally, even when she stations someone at the door to mediate the number of people in the shop, it quickly becomes “jam-packed” with candy flying everywhere, Colunga said. 

PHILANTHROPY

With its largest demographic of customers being local students, the Sweet Shop decided to give back to the community by donating 5% of its yearly proceeds to local schools.

“We’re trying to support schools, basically where the customers are coming from,” Colunga said. “So Egan, Santa Rita, Gunn, Los Altos High School and Mountain View High School.”

Every year, Sullivan reaches out to the schools to find out what they might specifically need, and the Sweet Shop donates funds to fulfill that need.

One year, as the Egan photography teacher had been taking her students on field trips to the Sweet Shop to take artsy photos of the candy, Sullivan and Colunga decided to donate money to buy the kids better equipment.

“It’s a good thing for us and it’s fun for them, and [the teacher’s] been doing this for years,” Colunga said, describing the field trips. “So we gave them some funds because they are in need of better equipment for photography in general.” 

As a family-friendly establishment, the Sweet Shop is also home to a little library, a mailbox-type neighborhood book swap which Colunga bought a few years ago and continues to maintain. She said she loves seeing grandparents take out picture books to read to their grandkids on the Sweet Shop patio, or elementary schoolers swapping out their old novels for new ones.

“It’s the most self-maintained thing I’ve ever had because you don’t really do anything,” Colunga said. “Once in a while we clean the cobwebs and straighten the books, but you rely on the community; they come and bring you books.”

COVID-19 IMPACT

As it shut down during the first lockdown in March, the Sweet Shop management has had to change operation to follow county safety standards, particularly tricky given the nature of the candy shop.

Being unable to use the inside of the store led to the end of people being able to pick and choose what they wanted from different jars, a highlight for many customers but there have been some benefits.

“Probably one of the best things that came from COVID was the amount of money we’re saving on candy because when we have the kids and it’s a crazy Friday afternoon, candy is flying on the floor because everyone’s so excited,” Colunga said. “Now, there is no wastage.”

Instead, the Sweet Shop now offers pre-bagged candy packets, which Colunga says they’ll likely stick to for the foreseeable future. 

Even without its free-flying candy, the Sweet Shop has remained a unique and charming locale embedded in the community it serves throughout the pandemic.

And as more and more people come across this endearing establishment, the Sweet Shop’s loyal clientele continues to grow.

“You don’t have to live right down the street, you know we have people from across town, and other towns because they’ve discovered it,” Colunga said. “It’s become their special little spot.”

Monday, May 10: A previous version of this article had incorrectly stated the name and ingredients of the “Egg White Skinny,” and misspelled Dania Zavala’s name. The errors have been corrected.

Getting a cheesecake from Basuku is like winning the lottery

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND MADISON YUE, PHOTOS BY EMILY MCNALLY

Melt-in-your mouth creamy, deeply caramelized and notoriously hard to come by nowadays, Charles Chen’s Basque cheesecakes have burst onto the Bay Area food scene. Basuku Cheesecakes, founded by Chen, has gained a cult following during the pandemic and now boasts pop-ups in San Francisco, Oakland and Palo Alto as well as national shipping. 

Barely a year ago, Chen, a food consultant, began baking for the first time as a hobby during the pandemic. He was intrigued by Basque cheesecake — a fusion of a traditional Spanish cheesecake and a Japanese style souffle cheesecake that has become increasingly popular — and a friend’s tips helped him perfect his own recipe. 

Chen’s cheesecake quickly caught on, with his chef friends posting about it on social media and the cheesecake mania snowballing from there. Chen, who had never expected a business to grow out of his cheesecake experiments, found himself inundated with orders that were quickly overwhelming his kitchen. 

The cheesecake maestro compared his sudden success to getting “struck by lightning,” from the perfect timing of starting pop-ups during the pandemic to the growth of his social media — where Chen has amassed a following of almost 13,000 cheesecake fanatics. 

Chen’s Basque cheesecakes.

Despite his rapid growth, Chen is still a “one man show” who bakes roughly 150 cheesecakes a week and struggles to keep up with the tide of demand. Dubbed the “most coveted cheesecake in the Bay Area” by fans on Instagram, Chen’s cheesecakes have spawned plenty of longing comments from fans who desperately want to get their hands on one. 

“I did not make this cake for it to be something that was exclusive,” said Chen, who recently finished a 33-day stint in the kitchen without a day off. “I’m working six, seven days a week.” 

As for Basuku Cheesecakes’s future, Chen says a permanent storefront is the next step, but he has no intention of expanding his menu beyond his iconic cheesecake. 

“I’m not a baker, not a chef,” Chen said. “I like to specialize in one product and I try my best to make that one product as best as I possibly can.” 

Chen may not be professionally trained, but he’s far from a newcomer to the industry, saying that his perfectionist approach to his cheesecakes comes from a lifetime of growing up in food and beverage. 

“My family had a Japanese restaurant, which operated for 30 years,” Chen said. “It’s just what I do, it’s in my blood, I live and breathe this stuff.” 

Despite all of his success, Chen still feels pressure to produce the best product he can.

“[When I’m] speaking to bakers who’ve been doing this for 25 years versus a year like myself, I say, ‘Every single time I put something in the oven, I’m still nervous,’ and they’re like, ‘Well, that’s because you care.’” 

Aside from keeping up the quality of his cheesecakes, Chen also cares about putting down roots in the community. Chen, who has recently used his social media platform to raise awareness about violence against Asian Americans and support fundraisers, said he wants Basuku Cheesecakes to not only be a go-to for tasty cakes, but to be a brand for people to rely on in rallying the community. 

Working with Oakland businesses, Chen was able to raise $13,000 in donations for the organizations Asian Americans Advancing Justice and Stop AAPI Hate, a number that rose to almost $40,000 with the added support of Silicon Valley companies. 

“Right now, the community needs something to bring us all together,” Chen said. “And whether it’s a cheesecake, whatever it is you know, I’m just trying to do my part to do that.”

Basuku Cheesecakes’ pick up locations: 

The Morris in San Francisco starting at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays 
Nightbird in San Francisco from 10–2 p.m. on Thursdays
The Commis Restaurant in Oakland from 2–3 p.m. on Thursdays
Vina Enoteca in Palo Alto starting at 11 a.m. on Fridays

For more information on how to pre order and frequent updates, check out Basuku Cheesecakes on Instagram.

Teen chefs connect with the community through food

STORY BY OLIVIA HEWANG AND AGNES MAR, PHOTOS COURTESY OF CARLY WATSON, AMANDA YUN, KYLIE DE LA CRUZ AND SOFIA RODRIGUEZ BAQUERO

For many, quarantine opened up rare time to explore new new hobbies, from crocheting to creating the perfect loaf of sourdough. But food is more than a brief COVID-19 obsession for these teen chefs; rather, baking bread has been a way to stay connected with their communities during the pandemic.

The Post asked Carly Watson, Amanda Yun, Kylie De La Cruz and Sofia Rodriguez Baquero about their culinary journeys and what they’ve been cooking up during quarantine. 


CARLY WATSON

Carly Watson is a junior at Los Altos High and president of cooking club Hot.S.Pot who also runs an Instagram with her sister Macy, where the two try international recipes. 

The Post:

You have an Instagram (@_carmalized_), where you’re making a dish from all 196 countries — why did you decide to take on that challenge? 

Watson: 

Once I realized quarantine wasn’t going to be two weeks, my sister and I decided that we wanted to take on the challenge of making a dish from every country in the world. We’re still working on that; we’re about halfway done. Discovering recipes from different countries and exploring different cultures makes me want to go visit more countries, especially the smaller ones many people don’t know about. 

The Post:

Tell us about your club Hot.s.pot.

Watson:

The name is based off of the Chinese dish hot pot, and then it’s called hot spot because it’s online. I started it with two of my friends, who are both from China, so we decided to cook different international recipes. We’ve done one from China, a couple American dishes, some from Japan, and each week a different person teaches it. 

The Post:

What sparked your passion for food? 

Watson:

I’ve always really liked cooking, especially cute food, such as animal shaped meringues. I really started liking it when I was three or four, and I would help my dad cook in the kitchen. Over quarantine, just more recently, I started ramping up my cooking. I think it’s pretty therapeutic as well. It’s very relaxing and fun, and pretty rewarding in the end.

The Post:

Where do you get inspiration from?

Watson:

Food is one of my favorite parts of traveling, so it’s kind of cool to take my favorite part of traveling back to my house. It’s helped me reconnect with a lot of people who are from different countries. I can reach out to them and ask them what recipes they recommend from their culture. 

For example, for China, one of my friends took me to Ranch 99, and I’ve never been there before. It was quite an experience. She showed me all the good things and helped me pick out a bunch of unique dishes. She went on a Zoom with me and helped me make Chinese pork dumplings. 

I also have some friends in Germany, so I was able to reach out to them and ask them what German food they would recommend. Some of my sister’s friends were living in Poland, so we asked them for recipes as well.


AMANDA YUN & KYLIE DE LA CRUZ

Amanda Yun and Kylie De La Cruz are sophomores at Palo Alto High School and co-presidents of Paly Eats, a cooking and food journalism club. 

The Post:

Tell us about your club Paly Eats 

Yun:

I was thinking about starting a cooking club for about a year. Kylie and I met in our freshman year and we found out that we had a connection over cooking and baking. So I asked her if she would want to start the club with me. We wanted to introduce others and bring people together over food and have a place for everyone to share and to learn. 

De La Cruz:

I was really excited to start this [cooking] club when I realized that we didn’t have one at Paly. When Amanda talked about it, she wanted to have people learn more about cooking and order dishes from restaurants and recreating it. That sounded like a lot of fun, and I wanted to be a part of that.

Yun:

Especially with the pandemic, I realized that there were a lot of businesses that are shutting down. I thought that it would be good to introduce people to more restaurants around the area, and kind of give local businesses more attraction since people aren’t going out that much. After we try dishes from a local restaurant, we look online to find similar recipes. Our first restaurants were Jin Sho [on Palo Alto’s California Ave] and Taro San [in Stanford Shopping Center]. So we had people recreate Kakuni Don, a Japanese pork and rice bowl, and wild salmon bento. 

The Post:

What sparked your passion for food? 

Yun:

I actually haven’t been cooking and baking for most of my life. It started around seventh or eighth grade. I just got really interested in a bunch of recipes I used to see on YouTube and different cooking channels. I love Binging with Babish and Joshua Weisman.

De La Cruz:

I’ve been cooking for a while. When I was younger I helped my mom bake cookies, stuff like that. I loved cooking all through middle school, and then with COVID, I’ve been bored, so that’s why I’ve started cooking a lot more.

The Post:

What’s your cooking style?

Yun:

My parents are both really into food; we consider ourselves foodies. Sometimes I go to San Francisco to try new restaurants. Like I said, YouTube has been a big influence on me in terms of what I cook. I find things that interest me and that seem challenging. I like to experiment with things that I haven’t tried before or things I haven’t heard of before, and just try to recreate them. 

I look forward to the weekends when I can escape for a few hours into something I’ve been waiting to do the whole week. I would definitely say that cooking is a distraction and something to look forward to at the end of the week. 

Yun’s raspberry, pistachio and passionfruit dessert. (courtesy Amanda Yun)

De La Cruz:

I prefer to make desserts, I just find that more interesting. My dad is from Peru, so I’ve grown up on a lot of rice based or noodle based dishes. I love playing around with the proportions of ingredients, because I believe I can do that a lot more with desserts than other dishes. At the end of finals week, I was so happy to be done with finals so I baked a cake. I definitely find baking to be a stress reliever.

De La Cruz’s Valentine’s Day and Peru sugar cookies. (courtesy Kylie De La Cruz)

The Post:

What’s your favorite part of the cooking process? 

De La Cruz:

When I’m trying to change a recipe, figuring out the proportions and then writing them down is fun. When I change how much flour or how much sugar and then when I see the end product, I’m like, “Yes, I did it. Okay, now I can change this for real.” I like being able to see that.

Yun:

I enjoy the process, especially with things such as bread. I like to knead the dough, or doing things with my hands, and the idea that I’m creating something. I tried this experimental recipe, I was inspired by a bunch of desserts you see in fancy restaurants where they’ve got a bunch of different components. I tried layering a bunch of little cakes, and then sticking them into molds, and then kind of making my own mousse recipe based on other recipes I’d seen. I like the idea that I can create something new and something that all tastes good.

You can check out the Paly Eats food blog here and their Instagram here


SOFIA RODRIGUEZ BAQUERO

Sofia Rodriguez Baquero is a senior at LAHS who posts photos of her culinary creations to her food Instagram @cookwithsof.

The Post:

What sparked your passion for food?

Rodriguez Baquero: 

I’ve been in the kitchen since I was little with my parents — they cook a lot, and they taught me a lot of things. And I just like sharing food with other people. It’s really fun because I’ve been able to talk to people I wouldn’t be reaching out to otherwise. 

It’s been really nice to share and like have friends text me pictures of food. And they’re like, “Oh, I was thinking about you when I was making this.” And it’s just so exciting.

The Post:

What’s your cooking style?

Rodriguez Baquero: 

My cooking style is definitely looking at a lot of recipes and then not following any of them. I keep temperatures and cooking times in mind as I go, but everything else I’ll either eyeball or be like, “Oh, I don’t really want to use that.” I’m very chaotic in the kitchen. Like a chaotic good, I’d say. 

The Post:

Where do you get inspiration from?

Rodriguez Baquero: 

I think a good amount is from social media, just seeing what friends and chefs are cooking and sharing. And also food magazines: I really like Bon Appétit’s magazine and New York Times Cooking a lot. When I’m kind of not paying attention in class and I open a new tab, it’s normally to look at recipes. I have a running list of things that I want to try just written down in a notebook.

A lot of the food that are staples in my family are things that we picked up while traveling [or] restaurants around here just because we have so many different cuisines around us.

The Post:

Who are your favorite chefs?

Rodriguez Baquero: 

My most favorite-ist is Melissa King. I remember in sixth grade, we had to write an essay about somebody that we admire and I wrote about her. Other people were writing about athletes and singers, and here I was writing about a chef. But she’s so cool, she has such interesting flavor combos. Another favorite of mine is David Chang. I love his restaurant Momofuku.