A west Alabama entrepreneur is hard at work this month to transform a closed O'Charley's restaurant to a new option for Indian cuisine in Tuscaloosa.

Mike Patel moved from New Jersey to the Yellowhammer State to open a convenience store in Pickens County that he still runs today.

He told the Thread he worked in kitchens back in New Jersey, though, and has long had a dream of opening an Indian restaurant here in his new home.

"Food is my passion, to cook," Patel said. "So I'm going to try to introduce American people to Indian food that's going to be very authentic but very presentable."

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Patel has contractors extensively renovating the O'Charleys restaurant that closed on McFarland Boulevard in 2022 and believes their interior and exterior work can be finished in the next few weeks.

If all goes according to plan, Patel hopes to open The Curry Kitchen in mid-August.

"Everything is going to be made fresh - there will be nothing pre-cooked, even the appetizers, soups and baked bread. We're going to cook it fresh," Patel said. "Any kind of curry, any vegetable or protein, it'll be fresh-cooked."

Patel said people will love lamb or goat biryani cooked in one of their curry gravies or sauces and served over saffron rice.

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Patel said there will be items on offer at the Curry Kitchen that Tuscaloosa residents may have never tasted before, like paper-thin, crepe-like dosa or India's favorite Amul cheese or rasmalai for dessert.

Americans tend to perceive Indian cuisine as very spicy, but Patel said it's more accurate to say it incorporates a lot of spices - like a dry rub does - as there aren't too many chiles included, the flavor is amplified but still accessible.

"It's about making the food tastier, it's not about heat level," Patel said. "Some chilies, you cannot add too many but other ingredients just make the food better and you don't have to worry about it."

If his plans bear out, Patel said he also hopes to demystify the cooking process by wiring a camera into the kitchen and showing the feed on a TV in the dining area.

Patel said he's committed to making sure people have a good experience and for a while after opening, he will allow groups who visit the Curry Kitchen to have parts of their order completely free of charge to make sure they enjoy it. If the concept succeeds here, he also hopes to open a second location in Birmingham sooner rather than later.

"When we open, please come try this Indian food because I think around here people need more choice than Mexican restaurants and fast food," Patel said. "Come and see, come and try it, you'll find it's fresh and healthy, and even with a nine-page menu nothing is pre-cooked."

The Curry Kitchen is opening next month at 3799 McFarland Boulevard East, in the former O'Charleys next to the Best Western and the Luther Stancel Pate III Memorial Bridge. The deal was closed by Harwood Real Estate, LLC.

For more coverage of restaurant and retail development in west Alabama, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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