Despite dealing with the unprecedented financial and restaurant fallout from the pandemic, Peacock’s Koriander Indian Cuisine in Belmont remains open to offer authentic dining options to customers and the community.

“We are hoping the next year will be better. I tell myself every day it’s OK, things happen, let’s handle it and work hard and keep smiling,” Srihari Bathini, owner of Peacock’s Koriander Indian Cuisine, said.

The restaurant at 520 Masonic Way off Hiller Street prides itself on providing southern Indian cuisine with fresh ingredients and Indian spices that workers grind on site. Its basmati rice comes from India weekly through a vendor, and the spices and ingredients are local from the Bay Area’s Indian community. Aloo Gobi, a vegetarian option of potatoes and cauliflower; dosa, a thin crepe; and biryani rice options are popular dishes.

“We have a good number of employees who know how to cook the Indian food well,” Bathini said.

The restaurant offers lots of vegetarian and vegan options based on feedback and preferences, such as a vegan palak paneer substituted with potatoes or garbanzo beans. Some customers like butter chicken and garlic naan.

“We do our best to cater to Indians and non-Indians, and we have a different spice level,” Bathini said.

From tech to restaurant

Bathini worked in the tech sector for 20 years before realizing his passion was in the restaurant industry. The restaurant started in 2009, and he was part of a team that bought it in 2011 before he took sole ownership in 2017. He felt roadblocked in his tech job after spending years in an office following a routine before deciding to operate Koriander full time. He appreciates the job’s flexibility but acknowledged running a restaurant open all week means his mind is always on the business.

“I can say I’m enjoying it better than sitting in a cubicle,” Bathini said.

Before the pandemic, employees from nearby companies packed the lunchtime dining room for the buffet and various events. The restaurant often catered for parties and weddings, even setting up a dosa bar for customers at various locations. Now, the focus is on families stuck at home and providing portable options for them, which will continue even after the pandemic. The restaurant has focused on providing takeout meals that do not get soggy, using plastic containers to avoid spilling food and that travel well. The individual lunchbox container option has proven to be popular with families and businesses.

“Now we gear towards more busy families and making them a packaged meal, a family pack, which we have run for a couple of months now,” Bathini said.

COVID-19 also changed how people order, with online orders accounting for around 80% of current business, while it only accounted for around 20% of business before. Bathini encourages people to come in and pick up orders if possible, as DoorDash and other delivery services get a large percentage of his profits that affect the bottom line.

“But people who come here, I really thank them. You are the ones keeping my lights on,” Bathini said. “That’s what I tell them.”

He hopes the next few months go well, and he noticed vaccinated people are confident enough to come back inside, with an increase in dining in the evening. Last Saturday, around 40 to 50 people came, with some people sitting outside. His 50% capacity is around 130 people. He was doing well financially before the pandemic but is still recovering from the devastating months of March and April in 2020. Although business is still not profitable yet, he believes things will turn around.

“Post-pandemic, I’m hoping everything will go well and we get back to normal in the next year,” Bathini said.

Supporting the community

Despite struggling during the pandemic, Bathini continues to help support the community through various programs and donations. John Jurow is the chief executive officer of the San Mateo County Health Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the San Mateo Medical Center. Jurow said Koriander was instrumental in donating to-go meals in 2020 to its Meal Train campaign, which provides free meals to front-line medical workers at the San Mateo Medical Center during the pandemic. Many workers have been under constant, unprecedented stress over the past year, and getting donated meals from restaurants was helpful for the people who couldn’t easily get meals.

“When you get a free meal, and you are working hard and don’t have to spend your own time and money, it helps you take a load off for a minute,” Jurow said.

Koriander started providing meals in April 2020 and continued through January, with a surge in donated food between April through July. Jurow said Koriander and Jack’s Prime Burgers and Shakes were two of the most significant contributors during the pandemic.

“They both really stepped up and gave thousands of dollars worth of meals,” Jurow said.

Bathini jumped at the opportunity to help the community, and he also donated meals to the city of Fremont for the homeless.

“This is what we are. We have to be supportive to the community because, at the same time, they are well supportive of us,” Bathini said. “I am really thankful to the community around here in Belmont, San Mateo and Redwood City. People are so supportive, and they are one of the reasons we are still in business, I can say.”

Ganesan Keerthivasan lives in Foster City and has been going to Koriander for six years after finding out about the restaurant online. He loves the food and is impressed by how meticulously they follow and take care of their recipes. Koriander has also provided him with food for birthdays and other parties and, during the pandemic, Keerthivasan has been ordering food to go once a month.

“I’ve never been disappointed in the past six years,” Keerthivasan said.

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