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Resilient Business: Spice Trail weathers pandemic by serving Indian meals to-go

Spice Trail business owner Sujata Shahi Singh holds a glass of wine high in the air as she smiles standing in front of a bar

By Sadie Seaman

*About this series: The Innovation District of Chattanooga is featuring businesses that were able to survive the challenges brought by Covid-19. Help your business, nonprofit, or faith-based organization stay ready for a crisis by visiting ResiliencyChecklist.org, a free tool from The Enterprise Center. *

About three years ago, a stranger approached Sujata Shahi Singh and asked where in town served the best Indian cuisine, and she responded, jokingly, “My house, of course!”

That’s when she got her big idea. Since moving to Tennessee, she had seen a need for a variety in the restaurant industry and had previously explored opening her own restaurant, but it was a daunting process. But now, Sujata had an idea that would be simpler to launch: a pop-up restaurant that would serve food at existing venues. In June of 2019, she officially started Spice Trail.

Sujata held these pop-up dinners at many different venues in Chattanooga, such as The Camp House and The Dwell Hotel. Guests would sample Sujata’s many specialities, including one of her favorites, a dish called “poori” which consists of an unleavened bread that is rolled, spiced, and fried. Before the onset of the pandemic, Spice Trail’s pop-up events had become very popular, but with the challenges of COVID-19, Sujata had to rethink her model.

To keep business going as this past year roared on, Spice Trail developed a to-go meal service, where customers can order a meal once a week through Spice Trail’s website. While they’ve been able to adapt and keep serving meals, the new model has come with challenges.

“Pop-ups were more fun, more adventurous. I could provide more variety,” said Sujata.

By moving the business completely online, Spice Trail has had to greatly increase their marketing efforts, and it’s also made licensing for the business more challenging.

“I want to go back to doing pop-ups because this has its limitations,” Sujata said. “Things taste better fresh, not everything can be warmed up.”

Even though the to-go model is not ideal, it has allowed Spice Trail to remain open over the last year, and Sujata is hopeful that she can restart the in-person dinner events by the summer.

Pictured is a dish called “poori” which consists of an unleavened bread that is rolled, spiced, and fried