Momos! Glenview restaurateur bringing Nepalese comfort food to the masses
For years, Glenview restaurateur Vivek Kunwar would enter his signature Nepalese comfort food -- momos -- into local food shows and street fairs.
"There was always a long line (of people) waiting for our momos," said Kunwar, founder and CEO of Himalayan Restaurant Indian & Nepali Cuisine in Niles and the South Loop.
A type of dumpling, the dish primarily is found in the cuisines of Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan and India.
Its popularity turned Kunwar's Niles restaurant into a foodie destination with people coming from all over the country to taste the varieties of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dumplings made with all-natural ingredients and 28 traditional spices. As his fan following grew, Kunwar opened the South Loop location in 2017.
Now, Kunwar's Himalayan Momo is being sold at Whole Foods, Jewel, Tony's, Sunset Foods, Woodman's Markets, Shop & Save Market and dozens of grocers across the Midwest.
"These are like a family recipe that we have been using at our restaurants for the last 20 years," he said. "We are trying to sell it in stores so people can enjoy the same momos at home that we will probably serve at our restaurants."
Kunwar showcased the dish in The Chicago Cultural Alliance's World Dumpling Fest in 2017, 2018 and 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted food festivals.
Since then, Kunwar has been working to bring his recipe to the masses. The momos are manufactured and packaged at a plant in Chicago near Logan Square and come in four flavors -- chicken, beef, vegan and paneer (Indian cottage cheese).
Kunwar, 46, immigrated from Kathmandu, Nepal's capital nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, to Chicago in 1993. He graduated with a degree in computer engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
After working for a few years in the Northwest suburbs, Kunwar realized there were no Nepalese restaurants in the region at the time "even though there was a big ethnic population," he said.
"That is where we got this idea of starting the restaurant," he said. "It's been very popular ... the whole (Asian) community really supports us. We have a big fan following in the Northwest suburbs."
"We are always trying to look at new ways to market our restaurant and we were one of the first ones to try Groupon," Kunwar said, " ... and it was a huge success for us."
When Kunwar started the commercial retail venture in April of 2020, he sold $500,000 worth of momos by year end. In 2021, his earnings tripled to roughly $1.7 million in sales. He is anticipating selling $3 million worth of momos this year.
Starting March 1, the dumplings will be available at 44 Mariano's stores throughout the Chicago area.
"People are really embracing our traditional Nepalese food as a quick, easy and healthy way to eat and cook," Kunwar said.
Himalayan RestaurantLocations: 8265 W. Golf Road, Niles; 606 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago
Retail sales: Himalayan Momo is available at Whole Foods (Midwest), Jewel, Tony's Market, Valli International Fresh Market, Pete's Market, Angelo Caputo's Fresh Markets, Sunset Foods, Woodman's Markets, Shop & Save Market, Safeway (West Coast), and ethnic Indian and Nepali grocery stores nationwide. Starting March 1, it will be available in all 44 Mariano's grocers in the Chicago area.
Website: himalayan-momo.com. Social media: Facebook, facebook.com/himalayan.momo.96; Instagram, instagram.com/himalayanmomo_
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