With the beloved Collingswood restaurant indeblue set to close this Friday, the community it has nourished and nurtured for a decade is mourning the loss of a family friend — and celebrating a familial success story too.
The Center City indeblue that debuted in 2013 continues to thrive. Owner-proprietors Rakesh and Heather Ramola say they are seeking additional Philadelphia and South Jersey locations.
Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley, meanwhile, hopes to find a way indeblue can reopen in the borough where it was born nine years ago.
"I did receive a call about another space that might be available," Maley said Monday. "We're going over what we could do."
Asked about Maley's comment, Heather said: "We really appreciate that the mayor reached out to us. It makes us feel very wanted in Collingswood. We are leaving our location here, but we will keep our options open."
Fans in Woodbury, Moorestown, Hammonton and Vineland are urging indeblue to consider their communities as well.
But Collingswood certainly proved to be the right town at the right time in 2009, when the Ramolas opened their first restaurant on Collings Avenue near the White Horse Pike.
Rakesh hails from Mumbai, India. Heather grew up in Bangor, Pa. The couple, then living in Maryland, knew next to nothing about the borough's residential and commercial renaissance. But they knew what they wanted to create: A restaurant that would showcase Rakesh's culinary chops and Heather's people skills, and offer a mix of fine, yet earthy, dining in stylish but down-to-earth surroundings.
A place where Indian food novices (like me) could learn to love the cuisine.
"We wanted to do something different," said Heather, who lives in Marlton with her husband and their three young daughters.
When indeblue opened, Collingswood's steady evolution from sleepy suburb to urbane dining destination had been underway for more than a decade. The community was ready to embrace a newcomer that offered creative, Indian-inspired international comfort fare.
"They did it right," said borough resident Steve Burch, a loyal customer and an organizer of Dining Out for Life, the AIDS fundraising event indeblue and other restaurants in the region have hosted.
The original restaurant in a former creperie whose color scheme inspired the indeblue name was tiny, and a tad remote from the gastronomic bustle of Haddon Avenue.
But the warm and welcoming vibe, affordable yet adventurous food and energetic young staff — whose diversity mirrored that of the borough as well as the clientele — quickly made indeblue a go-to. For pretty much everybody.
"They saw the potential," said Burch. "They added live music, they added the porch, and they had a large vegetarian menu, which is crucial in this town. They kept prices very reasonable."
The Ramolas did so well that two years later they moved across Collings Avenue to their current location, doubling the number of seats to 64.
But their lease is up and the building, the core of which is a house built in 1913, needs renovations. It's also for sale.
After the abrupt announcement Friday about the imminent closing, posts on social media reflected surprise — and a realization that more than just a place to enjoy good food will be lost.
OMG THIS IS SO SAD!!!
Arrrrrggghh!!! I hate this. Awful news.
Thank you for all that you've done to make our town a better place!
That last post was by Collingswood resident, cycling advocate, and glam rocker Joseph Bonaparte Jr., who noted by phone that Rakesh and Heather's participation in the civic life of the borough and surrounding towns made for "little connections" that have endeared their restaurant to so many.
Others, me included, have found ourselves recalling meals enjoyed and occasions celebrated at a neighborly restaurant some really do liken to the mythical Cheers — without the bar.
"Indy" really has been a place where you'd be likely to run into an old friend or a make a new one, and where you could always count on a welcome surprise or two on the menu.
"This is the favorite job of any I've had," said veteran server Lori Criniti of Haddon Heights, who has gotten a job at Tortilla Press, another anchor of the Collingswood dining scene.
Other members of indeblue's staff of 22 have found new jobs at the Center City location or in South Jersey.
Heather said the restaurant is "pretty much" booked throughout the final week.
Several friends and I were able to get a table at the end of Sunday's brunch. It was yet another memorable meal.
And Friday night, Heather said, will be like any other busy Friday night at indeblue.
Except that it won't.
"It's hard to leave here," Rakesh said. "Collingswood will be always in my heart."