Kati Roll Fever Sweeps Through U.S.
Indian cuisine’s latest offering begins simply as one woman’s nostalgia for her favorite hometown eats.
Open the menus of any self-respecting Indian restaurant and you are sure to find a version of a kati roll on the menu. Over the past few years, the simple paratha wrap has proliferated every modern Indian eatery across the US with its amalgamation of rich spiciness all wrapped up in one easy and portable package.
Kati roll’s popularity within the States can be directly attributed to one woman; an entrepreneur named Payal Saha, the founder of the nation’s first and most famous kati roll establishment, The Kati Roll Company. Payal, who originates from Kolkata, started her business with a very simple concept “I tremendously missed Kati Rolls and there weren’t any in New York when I first moved here,” she remembers, “I just wanted to have a place where I could enjoy Kolkata’s street foods. I thought if I missed it so much, other people must too.”
The Kati Roll Company (TKRC) first opened its doors in New York City’s eclectic Greenwich Village in 2002. The space was small and the menu was simple, offering a handful of kati rolls ranging from beef, lamb, chicken, to egg and vegetarian. Unable to afford a full staff and unsure of the acceptability of this new fast food, initially Payal along with Dona, her Tibetan domestic helper, were the only two working the eatery. From grinding fresh spices, to making the bread from scratch and barbecuing the fillings, the two worked side by side serving up the fresh and tasty rolls. Word caught on about the delicious fare and with the help of positive New York press and the loyalty of its South Asian and mainstream patrons, soon The Kati Roll Company was on its way to becoming NYC’s epicurean staple. In 2005, the eatery opened a second and larger location in midtown catering mostly to a lunch crowd.
“Whenever friends or family visit from India, I always recommend The Kati Roll Company,” says Viral Shah, a regular of TKRC. “The spice and flavor makes them feel like they never left home.” Recognizing the strengths of its cuisine and the needs of its patrons, both locations of TKRC operate during normal mealtimes, but also stay open to the early hours on the weekend serving up rolls to the long line of customers returning from the bars and clubs. “Having a kati roll at the end of a night out has become an urban rite of passage,” adds Payal. ”So many people line up at both locations starting around 2am on the weekends. It’s perhaps our most busiest time.”
“Going to Kati Roll at the end of the night is part of the fun of going out,” says Jersey-based Amrita Singh, “Not only do you get great food, but you always meet someone you know in line!”
Unfettered by her competitors, Payal continues to focus on the strength of her company, growing the brand by opening a third location in London which, since its opening in 2008, is also garnering a loyal following. ”Our research shows that people prefer the taste of the original Kati Roll Company and that is something we are proud of. We are currently looking to open franchises all over the United States because we know there is a demand for the product.”
Today, The Kati Roll Company continues to offer its basic menu of 11 rolls, but has added an option of a healthier whole wheat roti (as the wrap) in addition to the original paratha. With their rich flavors and unique portability, there is no doubt that kati rolls have become a fashionable mainstay at modern Indian eateries across the nation. Both South Asian and mainstream epicures have taken wholeheartedly to India’s latest fast food crossover and, like all great ideas, it started simply with one woman’s nostalgia for the food she loved from her hometown of Kolkata. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Kati Roll Company is located at 99 MacDougal Street and 49 West 39th Street in Manhattan as well as 24 Poland Street in London, England.