Vik Patel is a numbers guy. He thinks in terms of data, metrics, and market strategies. When it comes to prepping, cooking, and serving food, Patel didn't always let his day-to-day mindset — he's the director of business development at Sawgrass Technologies — influence his love of making spicy fare for friends and family.
But clients and visitors kept coming back to his Mt. Pleasant home, kept requesting the same authentic Indian chicken and lamb and shrimp. "I cook on the Green Egg at least once a week," says Patel. "Completely different types of food. I have friends and clients who come in, I typically invite them over to the house, we go to restaurants too, but they'll come over and we cook and eat and my family says 'You can't be wrong. People are requesting this. And they come back again.' So I said said 'let's try it.'"
Last month, Patel hauled his two Green Eggs to Pacific Box & Crate's Saturday morning farmers market. He had a small menu for this inaugural pop-up: the Fire Chicken, a skinless chicken leg quarter marinated in homemade yogurt and freshly ground spices garnished with fresh lime and cilantro and served with yogurt raita, and the Lucky Chicken, chicken tendered on the bone with a freshly prepared medium spiced dry rub garnished with the same lime, cilantro, and yogurt raita. There were also sides of naan and bottles of Allagash White. Patel says he prepped enough food for around 80 people, to sell over the span of 10 hours. In a plot twist even the numbers guy couldn't anticipate, he sold out of all his food in just three hours.
"It's very exciting," Patel says. "It was a first on many, many levels. It was fun. It was great seeing almost every demographic coming in to eat the food."
In a foodie city awash with upscale Southern eateries, oyster bars, and barbecue joints, it's nice to see something different on the menu, perhaps something your taste buds have never come close to experiencing.
Dhaba 13 isn't Charleston's first foray into itinerant ethnic cuisine: The Schuttenbergs' Kwei Fei has a residency at The Daily and they participate in a variety of other collabs around town (find Fatty Crab with Kopi Tiam at Daps on Thurs. Sept. 27 at 5 p.m.). Jeffrey Stoneberger's 2Nixons has now set up shop at Proof every Friday and Saturday night serving everything from ramen to yakitori. And Short Grain is at Edmund's Oast Brewing Co. every Tuesday starting at 11 a.m.
But there is a dearth of authentic Indian in the Lowcountry, an area that, Patel thinks, is craving new flavors, new spices, and plenty of heat. "The pop-up scene [in Charleston] is new," says Patel. "If I keep getting the same customers over and over that's good, but I want to attract new folks, too. I don't want a happy meal every day ... there's still a lot of the same cuisine in Charleston. There's no twist."
For Patel, the data-driven at-home chef, he's looking at the bigger picture every time he lights up the grill. "I have a full time job. That keeps me busy." On a daily basis, Patel is running a team that creates ink that will go on T-shirts and mouse pads that will be shipped all over the world. He loves to cook at home, to serve his closest friends and family, but he also loves to serve up results on a much larger scale.
"So after the 29th, if I'm successful, I'll say 'maybe I need to take this on the road.' Not a food truck, but [I would go] to craft breweries and replicate this. This is beer food. It's spicy, hot off the grill." Patel thinks that Pacific Box & Crate's farmers market is the perfect launching point for his pop-up, what with its capacious courtyard and flocks visiting Edmund's Oast Brewing Co. and Workshop stalls on King Street Extension throughout the day. But he thinks it could go elsewhere, too.
"Everyone has a core competency," says Patel, slipping into business mode. "Breweries are good at making beer. I'm good at chatting, that's what I do for a living, I chat. If we come together ... We both enjoy good food and good beer." Patel urges that he has no designs to open a restaurant — that does not fit into his grand plan. Instead, he wants to continue to transport his Big Green Eggs, whipping up uber spicy meats for those with a curious or insatiable palate.
"I'm the guy cooking, serving, and walking around asking people how the food was," says Patel. In fact he walked and cooked in the heat so much at the first pop-up he claims he lost five pounds. "I'm not the guy that cooks chicken and food ahead of time and then mixes it into sauce. I'm not doing that, I'm built from the ground up."
"Dhaba" which is the word used for roadside restaurants in India, is a concept that is inherently authentic, laced with hole in the wall details and "you have to be there" experiences.
"People in this town are craving," says Patel. "I am. I travel all over the world and I see it. I'm not afraid to eat a bullfrog in China and I'm not afraid to eat a rattlesnake in Arizona. People come here from different metropolitan cities — they crave that different food."
Dhaba 13 pops up at Workshop (503 King St.) Sat. Sept. 29 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.