A queer couple have achieved their dream of opening up their own restaurant, and that too as a tribute to their Indian culture and upbringing.
Resh Sonchhatla and Heena Varambia’s restaurant, the Chapati Club, is a LGBTQ+ inclusive space that aims to welcome locals with open arms.
The couple launched the venture despite having no experience in the restaurant business, while going through the stress of IVF.
READ MORE: ‘It took me 2 years to tell my family I had HIV – it felt like a second coming out’
Resh was, by profession, an accountant at the time – but had always dreamed of opening up her own food business.
She said: “The food thing was bugging me since I was a kid. I would watch my mum while she cooked and I was fascinated.
“I went to uni and trained as an accountant, as time went on it became more depressing, it was unfulfilling and I wanted to be more creative and be my own boss.
“I was in early 40s and I decided to quit corporate life, I said if I don’t do this now, I don’t wanna be thinking I should have.”
Both Resh and Heena shared a lifelong passion for food, instilled in them from childhood by their large families, and having grown up in nearby Hounslow, Heena was a fan of the diverse, creative Acton area.
The idea of opening a “non-traditional” restaurant serving “the food we grew up on” quickly became a reality when an ideal site became available; they put an offer in, which was accepted, and opened Chapati Club on April 7, 2017.
“I still had my job at the time, we went to see the site which was a closed down Chinese restaurant.
“There was a minimal premium on it, it needed a refurb then,” she said.
Get the latest London news straight on your phone without having to open your browser – and get all the latest breaking news as notifications on your screen.
The MyLondon app gives you all the stories you need to help you keep on top of what’s happening in the best city ever.
You can download it on Android here and Apple here.
At the time, the couple were going through IVF, however they felt the “baby thing wasn’t working.”
At this point, they put the idea on the back burner, and decided to focus on opening up the eatery.
But, at the same time just days after signing the lease, on April 17, while they had a few more rounds of IVF left as they had bought it in packages, Heena fell pregnant.
Since then, the couple also gave birth to another child after Heena got pregnant a second time just before Covid.
The busy duo currently open the restaurant four days a week to maintain a work life balance.
Resh said the aim of the restaurant is to make sure everyone feels included and she finds that embracing others is their strength as a restaurant.
(Image: Chapati Club)
Talking about her own journey of being a queer person in a South Asian family, she said: “I didn’t come out to my family until I met Heena 12 years-ago.
“I was exploring marriages of convenience with a gay man, I thought I could never do this to my family, my parents aren’t strict but also not modern, we grew up around a nice Hindu community, everyone knew them.
“I was in my mid 30s and my parents would be like there’s this guy every week, one day I told my mum, my sister helped manage the situation.
“I introduced them to Heena who is Indian as well, it was awkward but walking away it felt relieving, time went on and we finally bought a house together.”
Eventually they both started to spend time with each other’s families and things fell into place.
When they launched the restaurant, they never thought to be an out and proud LGBTQ+ space.
We’re testing a new site:
However, when the business had been open for two months, Heena had picked up an LGBTQ+ flag at the Pride event and said they should put it in the restaurant window.
Resh said: “I said we can’t do that, she said why not, I couldn’t tell her why, but it felt so wrong, but then I thought actually let’s put it in the restaurant, so people could see it.
“As time went on we became open about it – as a gay Indian owned restaurant.
“We now get a lot of gay couples coming in and single gay people, word started spreading and for me if I was in my 20s, if I knew there was an Indian owned gay restaurant I would go!”
The restaurant is not just a representation of them, it is also one that showcases their culture through the menu.
Resh and Heena looked to favourite recipes from their shared Indian-Kenyan heritage, including many handed down by their families.
At MyLondon, we want to make sure you get the latest and greatest from across the capital.
And one way you can do that is by getting the best news, reviews and features from wherever you are straight to your inbox with our free email newsletters.
We have seven newsletters you can currently sign up for – including a different one for each part of London, as well as an EastEnders one for all the gossip from Albert Square, and a London Underground one to keep you up to date on the latest transport news.
The local newsletters go out twice a day and send the latest stories straight to your inbox.
From community stories and news covering every borough of London to celebrity and lifestyle stories, we’ll make sure you get the very best every day.
To sign up to any of our newsletters, simply follow this link and select the newsletter that’s right for you.
And to really customise your news experience on the go, you can download our top-rated free apps for iPhone and Android. Find out more here.
‘Chicken G Dad’s Way’, for example, is Heena’s dad’s recipe, a dish so popular within her family that any time it’s made it leads to a large impromptu gathering.
The ‘61’ in ‘Chicken 61’ meanwhile refers to Resh’s aunt’s house number, where she would go if she wanted to eat chicken, which her vegetarian mother wouldn’t cook.
April 2022 marks five years since its launch – you can visit the Chapati Club at 117 The Vale, London W3 7RQ.
Do you have a story you think we should be covering? If so, email firstname.lastname@example.org