Kayur Popat did not set out to get into the Indian restaurant business.
Popat, 39, born in Uganda to Indian parents, bought into a fast-food franchise that went cold. Then he hit it big with two Saxby's coffee shops. He also bought Bonte, the waffle shops.
Back home in Mechanicsburg, Pa., he was offered a stake in a pizzeria in 2009. His family suggested that he add Indian cooking. So Friends & Family Pizza Buffet became Bombay Junction & Pizza Buffet - a fitting meld of this fun-loving, easygoing American guy interested in maintaining his cultural heritage. (And talk about heritage: He traveled to India to find a bride. After a year of diplomatic red tape, his wife, Mona, joined him in Philly recently.)
While Bombay Junction is a humble spot in a suburban strip mall, he is ready to go downtown.
Friday, April 20, he opens Jalsa ("fun") at 246 Market St. (267-273-1648), the steel-girdled storefront previously home to Lena, Bluezette, and Prive. This is not an easy setup for a restaurateur. As it has under previous occupants, a space-sucking staircase divides the two floors of dining rooms. Popat has maintained much of the mod looks and white banquettes of Prive. Upstairs will be dining and late-night DJ action.
Following him from Mechanicsburg is his chef Diego Rodrigues (like the explorer), a native of Goa - the home of vindaloo. Really tasty stuff - traditional specialties and assorted breads (garlic and plain naan, paratha, tandoor roti). Entrees are $19.95 and under, and Rodrigues makes his own kulfi, the Indian ice cream.
It's open for lunch and dinner daily; in these first days, it would be best to call first.