By Kailash Mishra
From a modest beginning in a warehouse to reaching flavorful heights of entrepreneurship, this is the inspiring story of two friends turned business partners whose shared passion for food turned into one of the most successful Nepali restaurants in Central Ohio – Durbar Nepali and Indian Cuisine.
Sagar Dhital and Himod Sharma are the proud owners of Durbar Restaurant. They first met in February 2018 while working at the warehouse of 31-Gifts. Dhital, who was a trainer at the warehouse, had recently welcomed Sharma as a trainee. It did not take long for Dhital and Sharma to become good friends.
Sharma had recently immigrated to the United States from Butwal, Nepal, in December 2017. As a new American, he was excited about the opportunities the country offered. On the other hand, Dhital had been living in the States for some time. He had migrated from the Bhutanese Refugee Camp in Eastern Nepal back in 2011. Despite their different backgrounds, their friendship and shared desire to create opportunities in their new home brought them closer.
“America is a land of opportunity, and I came here to make something out of it,” said Himod Sharma.
At the young age of 21, Sharma received his Diversity Visa to migrate to the United States. Conversations between Sharma and Dhital often revolved around their mutual desire to open a business and create opportunities for themselves and their families. Dhital’s family operated a Nepali ethnic grocery store in Reynoldsburg, resulting in his desire to steer his own venture.
After countless discussions and thorough research, Sharma and Dhital leased the current location for Durbar in April 2019. They opened their doors to customers in July 2020, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Dhital adds, “Our restaurant faced significant challenges for more than a year, but we remained committed to our goal.”
Initially, most of their business came from takeout orders. During slower periods, they utilized the time to learn and improve their recipes based on customer preferences. The name “Durbar ” translates to “palace” in English, and the restaurant’s aesthetic reflects the splendor of ancient Nepali places, with beautiful Aanki Jhayl (old-style windows with carvings) and royal red seating booth.
Frequent customer Rangeet Sunuwars says Durbar is the “chillest” Nepali restaurant in town, with food that reflects his childhood, and Bhatti (Nepali speakeasy) like feeling. He visits the restaurant every week and orders his favorite dish, the Thali set (a typical Nepali dish consisting of rice, lentil soup, curry, and a choice of protein).
He says, “Sometimes I order two sets of Thali.” The restaurant also serves a variety of cocktails and drink mixes, and Sunuwars adds, “The variety of drinks makes the experience even better.” He usually also orders a beer or cocktail accompanied by Bhatmas Sadeko (soybean with Nepali spices), famous Nepali bar food.
Durbar aims to be a cultural hub, transcending the niche Bhutanese and Nepali markets, and introducing the food to diverse customers. Sharma hopes the restaurant can expose the Columbus locals to the rich food culture of Nepal.
Dhital adds, “We have tried to make our restaurant what we expect when we go out to eat.”
He emphasizes that they do not think from the owner’s perspective, but rather from the customers’ perspective, providing a low cost fine-dining experience.
Their menu consists of traditional and modern Nepali and Indian dishes. Bhagirath Dhital, the head chef of Durbar, notes, “We try to create a fusion between traditional and modern tastes.” The Taco Samosa Chaat – a Mexican inspired traditional Samosa Chaat – serves as a perfect example of the intended fusion.
Chef Dhital, father of owner Sagar Dhital, began his culinary journey in Bhutan, where he cooked for migrant doctors from India who worked in his village hospital. His culinary pathway in Bhutan was short-lived due to forced migration, but his love for the art continued. When he arrived in Arizona in 2011, he continued his career as a chef in a temple, and later in an Indian restaurant. After moving to Columbus in 2015, he worked as the head chef in two separate Nepali and Indian restaurants. Now, Chef Dhital serves as the head chef in his son’s restaurant, managing a team of four chefs. His favorite dish in the restaurant is Chicken Biryani.
He states, “The complexity and the delicious result of Chicken Biryani is truly satisfying.”
Durbar has received numerous accolades, including the recent award for the best restaurant in Reynoldsburg. Dhital and Sharma cherish the connections they build with their customers. According to Sharma, “This has become a space where memories are created. People come here to celebrate accomplishments and milestones.”
They also offer live Nepali music every Saturday. Durbar’s dishes also reflect the deep diversity of Nepali cuisine, from Choila (an ethnic Newari dish) to Mustag ko Allo (potatoes from the remote mountain town of Nepal, spicy style), all kinds of unique Nepali food are available. Dhital mentions that the fan favorite is Chili Momo, a modern twist on the popular Nepali dumpling, Momo.
Sharma and Dhital emphasize that from starting as a trainer and trainee to becoming business partners, their friendship has only grown stronger. While Sharma’s family resides in Nepal, Dhital’s family has become Sharma’s family. The entire staff at Durbar is committed to providing a unique Himalayan experience to their customers.
Durbar is one of many exemplary New America success stories. There are hundreds of new American businesses creating opportunities for their communities and providing better lives for their families. Our local economy flourishes with the addition of new American businesses like Durbar which employs 13 people. Businesses like Durbar are our local economy’s job creators.
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