Kirkland's Raga Cuisine of India is surviving through tough times
By KEVIN OPSAHL
Kirkland Reporter Contributor
February 12, 2010 · Updated 10:49 AM
It’s 6 p.m. on a Friday night at Raga Cuisine of India and Mukesh Kakar is doing what he loves: attending to customers and making suggestions from the menu.
Mukesh, 47, is the owner of Raga on 212 Central Way in Kirkland. The small restaurant serves traditional Indian food, offering a lunch buffet and dinner menu. Kakar explained the philosophy behind Raga, which is Indian for music, that the music (notes) are the spices, flavors and traditions from all reaches of the Asian country.
Raga’s location in Kirkland’s central business district has made it somewhat of a popular attraction (Bill Gates and his family were guests – Kakar still has his Visa slip) not to mention the favorites, Chicken Tikka Masala and Kakar’s Tandouri.
“(At Raga,) I treat them like home, very friendly,” Kakar said. “Most of the customers, I know them and they know me very well … I always wanted to have my own business … (it brings me) great satisfaction.”
Being friendly is just one of the four principles Kakar abides by as a businessman. The others: work hard, be honest and never be absent. In fact, they are values that he took with him in his journey from the plains of India to the United States – as he calls it, “the land of opportunity.”
The son of a farmer, Kakar grew up in Gharaunda, Haryana 100 miles away from New Delhi. He graduated with a B.A. from Government College of Karnal in 1984 and in 1991, he was arranged to marry Sonia.
Kakar came to Seattle in 1993 with his heart set on starting a business. He began at the bottom – cleaning up and scrubbing grime off of the dishes at a local restaurant. Sonia came to the states in 1997.
Kakar bought his first business, Maharaja, located on Pike and Broadway, in 1998 and worked there until 2003 when he bought Raga.
Trouble struck a year later, when Raga caught fire. Kakar had insurance but the coverage was denied. He had to pay for reconstruction out of pocket.
“That was a big loss for me,” said Kakar, who managed to re-open Raga in December of 2004.
Kakar and Sonia also own Quizno’s Subs franchises in Juanita Village and east Kirkland. The transition from sautéing mushrooms on a Chicken Carbonara sub creation to serving up plates of hot curries each day has become standard practice.
“She works hard with me,” Kakar said of his wife, who holds a B.A. in special education from India. “She comes to all of my businesses whenever I need her.”
Their three young children, Megha, 10, Surbhi, 7, and Ridhi, 4, can often be seen hanging out with their parents during the workday when they are not at school, playing games on the computer or scribbling hearts on the etch-a-sketch.
For the Kakar family, life is good, but Kakar said the economy is what worries him.
“Right now, everything is slow,” he said. “Even when Raga burned down and we started again, it was not so bad, but after that it was getting slower. It’s harder to provide.”
Though times are tough, Raga made a new addition, a lounge and martini bar next to the dining room.
One thing is certain: the Kakar family intends to stay here.
“I love the Seattle area, it feels like I was born here,” Sonia said. “I just want the business to be good, give my kids a good education and whatever Mukesh wants me to do, I will do that.”