No place like home: Newest mall restaurant features Indian chai, snack shop

While stores have been exiting rapidly out of the FairOaks Mall over the past several years, a new tenant is moving in.

The blue- and yellow-tiled walls that once housed By Word of Mouth Catering is now Numkeenz, an authentic chai and Indian snack shop which opened Feb. 14 inside the mall, 2380 25th Street.

It is the first new tenant to open up shop in the mall since the city of Columbus and partner Columbus Regional Hospital purchased the facility in December, the first step in an expected redevelopment of the facility into a year-round community recreational and sports tourism complex.

Shama Padalkar, 52, moved to Columbus from Pune, India in 2009 to be with her husband, Tushar Padalkar, who has worked for Cummins for more than 30 years. Shortly after moving to Columbus, Shama Padalkar noticed there was no place to purchase authentic chai, a popular Indian tea.

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“It started based on my own need for a place like this, where I can go have some real chai and some tasty Indian snacks,” Padalkar said. “About six years ago, I started seriously thinking about starting a restaurant. Finally, I decided to rise to the challenge.”

Padalkar said she chose the empty space in Fair Oaks Mall because of its size and location.

“When I started considering this space for my restaurant and location, it wasn’t out then that it would be a sports facility,” Padalkar said. “When I heard the city and hospital is planning to convert it into an indoor sports facility, I was happy that I can offer healthy and quick vegetarian snack options.”

Numkeenz joins 15 other tenants, including Bath & Body Works and Dunham Sports. All existing tenant leases are being honored through at least the next three years as future redevelopment of the facility is planned.

Food and restaurant services, however, could complement the suggested sports-tourism use for the mall property, meaning Numkeenz could have a better chance at staying in the space.

Numkeenz comes from the Hindi word, “namkeen,” which means savory snack. Padalkar said she modified the name to also combine English words “num” and “keen.”

When customers visit Numkeenz, they’re offered a free cup of chai, a common hospitality in India. Chai is made with black tea, milk, fresh ginger, sugar and caramom. Padalkar stresses that authentic Indian chai is not the same as a chai latte ordered from other coffee shops.

The restaurant will offer different items throughout the day. Beginning at 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., Numkeenz will serve traditional Indian breakfast options like uppama, pohey and idli.

Samosas, a fried pastry with spiced vegetables and potatoes, and batata vada, a gluten-free potato fritter, will be served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Starting at 4 p.m., the restaurant will serve chaat, or popular street-food, like sav puri, bhel and pani puri.

All items are vegetarian, and several gluten-free and vegan options will also be available.

“There’s a misconception that Indian food is all very spicy or oily, but a lot of what I’m serving is very healthy with mild spices and all made fresh,” Padalkar said. “It’s also not necessarily food you’d typically find in restaurants, but you will find in homes all over India.”

Numkeenz is Padalkar’s first venture into the restaurant realm.

“I’m someone who had never been in food business, but this is more of a cultural experience for people,” she said. “It really brings out the Indian culture.”

The space seats 16 people at a time. The shop also offers catering and delivery services.

“We have a lot of people coming to Columbus from India, sometimes just for one or two months, or even a year,” Padalkar said. “I hope to provide them that taste of home they may be craving.”

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Numkeenz: Comes from the Hindi word "namkeen," which means savory snack

Location:  FairOaks Mall at 2380 25th St.

Owner: Shama Padalkar

Hours: Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.