A new East Indian restaurant is being built in the former Electric Castle’s Wunderland video arcade site in Gateway. Namaste Indian Cuisine restaurant plans to open its doors by October at 10306 N.E. Halsey St., according to its owner, Harjinder Chand. Owner of three other restaurants, two in Portland and one in Vancouver, Chand purchased the building May 13.
The remodeled building will also house a gift shop and grocery store selling East Indian and Pacific Island food, spices and gifts, as well as beer and wine. In addition, Chand’s eldest daughter will teach East Indian cooking classes at the restaurant, open to the community, once a week.
Chand paid $540,000 for the 5,000-square-foot site, which includes the building and land. The Portland Development Commission approved several grants for Chand to support his efforts to remodel the long-vacated building, according to Sue Lewis, PDC’s grant program manager. These include a Development Opportunities Services (DOS) grant for up to $12,000 for a feasibility study; a Storefront Improvement Program (SIP) grant for up to $32,000; and a Green Features grant for up to $25,000 for energy efficient improvements. On the DOS grant, PDC will reimburse Chand 80 percent, up to the maximum amount. “The study is not complete yet, so I do not know if he will max out the grant,” Lewis said in an email. On the SIP grant, PDC will reimburse Chand 75 percent, up to the maximum amount for eligible facade improvement costs, such as painting the building, new windows, doors, signage, lighting and/or awnings. Lewis said whether he receives the full amount of the SIP grant will depend on the construction bids. For the Green Features grant, PDC reimburses him 50 percent, up to the maximum amount.
Chand chose to locate his restaurant in Gateway because he noticed there were no major East Indian grocery stores in the area, just very small ones that offered few choices to the customers. “I like that area very much,” Chand said. “Living around that neighborhood are many Indian people, Nepalese and Highlanders from Samoa and Tonga, small island people. They are regular customers at my other restaurants. They all encouraged me to bring Indian food close to them, so that’s why I chose that area.”
Chand applied for a building permit on July 9 and expects the remodeling to begin by late July or early August. He’s working with architect Lorraine Guthrie, who contracts with PDC, and designer Linh Dau, owner of Fine Arts Design Incorporated. Dau is the general contractor and designer of the interior remodeling of the building, which costs about $100,000, according to Dau. He explained the restaurant, grocery store and gift shop will be housed in the large open space of the building. “We are going to define the areas using design features like columns or partial walls or an artistic piece,” Dau said. “We would like to keep it an open space with an open feel.”
Although the color scheme has not been chosen yet, Dau said the general theme of the space will reflect the cultures of many people in the area, including East Indians, Polynesian and Hawaiian Islanders, Tibetans and Ethiopians. “So people can go in there and feel a little sense of where they came from,” Dau said.
His team plans to revitalize the aesthetic aspect of the building. He and his designers plan to use equipment to cut out abstract designs of coconut trees, islands and beaches in wood, aluminum, plastic or other materials, pasting them or hanging them as art pieces. Chand said he plans to add outside seating and serve lunch and dinner with entree prices ranging from five to ten dollars. The restaurant’s hours will be from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week.
The new restaurant differs from Chand’s other three by offering vegetarian and vegan food exclusively, and many of the items are gluten free. The Punjabi street food, as he calls it, is based on a Northern Indian cuisine which is quite different from the Southern Indian fare found in many other Indian restaurants. “This is a little bit of a different concept than the buffet,” Chand said, referring to the buffet serving style in his other restaurants. “This is a challenge for us, creating a new concept.”
Brent Maxson, a real estate broker with Keller Williams Realty, represented Chand when he purchased the building. “I think studies show that there is a market for vegetarian products and strict vegetarians don’t like to have cross-pollinated products,” Maxson said. “Also, you can have a very easy, flavorful meal without having to have the extra protein that the meat has. I think with the hospitals nearby it’s a nice healthy alternative for the fast food and burgers that permeate the Halsey Corridor.”
Chand, who immigrated to Portland from Punjab, a state in northwest India, in 1993, worked in his uncle’s Indian restaurant, honing his culinary skills. His new restaurant will be very much a family affair, since he will run it with help from his wife, three daughters, and his sister and brother-in-law.
A landmark in the Gateway community for three decades, the Wunderland video arcade on Halsey closed more than a year ago because its owners were opening another store farther east in Gresham. The land and building lay vacant for many months until last winter, when Carol Danish and her sister, Wendy Brown, approached real estate broker Ted Gilbert about finding a buyer for the site. “We made very specific demands of Ted to not show it to anybody who was going to downgrade the block,” Danish said. “I think there are great things coming for Gateway and it’s just going to be a matter of time before it starts to blossom because the realty prices are very, very good in that area and I think it can be developed into a lovely area.”
Gilbert, president of Gilbert Bros. Commercial Brokerage Co., has been an advocate of Gateway revitalization efforts for years. When the sisters read about Gilbert’s activities, they approached him about selling the site.
Danish said that Wunderland was a fabulous tenant for 32 years, so when the arcade vacated the site she and her sister were adamant about finding just the right buyer. “We were thrilled that Namaste bought it, because we were concerned about who went in and what they would do to the Gateway community because we had a lot of years of respecting it,” Danish said.
Before the final sale, Maxson and Chand toured the building several times to determine if it was a good place for the restaurant. “We were looking for somebody with natural foods and healthy foods that could bring the area up,” Danish said. “All of us have really high hopes that Namaste is going to be just that.”
Maxson and Chand sought advice from several people about how to revitalize the older building. “Once it was disclosed to him what it would take to get this thing revitalized, he decided to still proceed,” Maxson said of Chand. “I commend him for investing into that neighborhood, because there’s a lot of nefarious activities that went on there while we were doing our due diligence. I think when you have a solid tenant with a good quality product, in this case vegetarian Indian street food, and then a grocery store and gift shop, it creates a destination for people coming to the area.”
Danish recalled that her father, Morrie Miller, managed and rented a sporting goods and army surplus store called Allied Sav-Mor, starting in the late 1950’s, that was across the street from what would later be the Wunderland arcade. At that time, the Teeney family owned the whole block. Around 1964, her dad and his partner, Dave Saltman, bought what would be the Wunderland building to house their sporting goods store. After Miller passed years later, the two sisters rented the site to Wunderland Arcade for more than 32 years. “The reason they had such a feeling for it is they remember growing up when their Dad had the business there,” Gilbert said. “And so they had real deep roots in Gateway and wanted to do their best by the community as well.”
When Wunderland moved out a year ago and for sale signs were posted on the building, “we were getting calls and some very unkind messages left, as though we had something to do with Wunderland not being there anymore, because it was such a landmark that some people were upset that they moved,” Gilbert said. “Of course, we had nothing to do with that. There were a lot of people that knew that space when it was Wunderland.” Gilbert recalled years ago that the Halsey-Weidler district was a thriving commercial area. “There are moves afoot to help it become that again,” he said. “They [the sisters] really wanted to see something that would fit and help bring energy and vitality to that street.”
Gilbert said his company worked for a year to locate just the right buyer for the site.
While the building sat empty, Gilbert’s company tried to sell it. Eventually, Maxson approached Gilbert about buying the building. “For the most part, they made a decision very quickly that that location would work for them,” Gilbert said.
After the sisters realized Wunderland was leaving, they decided to put the building up for sale. “We are passionate about wanting to see Gateway revitalized,” Gilbert said. “I look at Gateway as the front door to all of east Portland. It’s incredibly visible, it’s highly accessible and to this point it’s significantly underdeveloped as to what it could be. Part of the charm of Gateway is the Halsey-Weidler couplet, and the Halsey–Weidler couplet has become a priority to the Portland Development Commission. They want to see that street become what it once was and can be again.”
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