Houston Business Journal | 04.07.2017
Chef Kiran Verma starts every morning in her new restaurant with a prayer for a good day.
“This is a business, and you want to make money,” Verma said. “But there is no other work I’d do. Being a chef makes me happy — it’s almost like you’re feeding a family.”
In January, Verma moved her Indian restaurant, Kiran’s, to the ground level of the new Kirby Grove development at 2925 Richmond Ave., after spending more than a decade in the Galleria area. The move is paying off. She’s projecting $6 million in revenue in 2017 — more than what she made last year, she said.
She was 18 years old when she moved to Houston from India in February 1973. When she was 43, she launched her first restaurant in the Bayou City and has been cooking ever since.
What’s your work environment like? I’m focused and quiet inside the kitchen, and I ask the same out of my employees. I can’t work and listen to music.
How would you describe yourself as a leader? Some of my employees have been with me for 18 to 19 years. I think it’s important to find out the strengths of employees and to know them deeply. If an employee has a hard time coming in the morning, I’ll give the employee the afternoon shift. I won’t scream in the kitchen. If I’m stern in my own ways, they’ll follow me.
How do you approach food? I don’t like waste, and I’ll try to reuse everything. I go to Central Market almost every day to buy fresh produce. We have farmers coming here, too. Everything is made from scratch.
Why did you do Dining for Democracy, a fundraising event for the ACLU and the work it has done for immigrants? It’s a strong statement as a chef, but our employees are our backbone. I’d rather open our walls and let people in because can you imagine one day if you didn’t have all these employees? We would have to close our doors (if some of the Trump Administration’s policies were enacted), and the government deported some of my employees. It’s not just my business — it’s the whole restaurant, construction and services industry. How can people be blind? The people supporting this have big homes and these people come to their homes to work. I don’t see the reality in these policies.
What’s recruiting like? It’s not difficult to hire. There are many people who want to work for us, but finding the right fit is difficult. But once we find the right fit, we stick with them. Some of our new staff walk in with no culinary skills, but we help teach them and promote them.
What was it like to move to your new location? My biggest challenge was making sure my employees would come back. During that time, they did go work for other places … The design was difficult, too. But about 90 percent of this place looks the way I wanted.
How does this location compare to your former one? The new location is double the volume, but it has double the rent.
Do you have any partners? I don’t. My son and my daughter helped me with the financial aspects of the business projections — they both have full-time jobs in finance. My husband retired in April 2016 (when the move started), so he managed the construction and design. He was an engineer and project manager. (Family friend and neurologist) Dr. Jagdish Sharma helped with the wine menu. I think God was looking after me.
Where do you project your revenue for 2017? So far we’re looking at more than $6 million, but I’m hoping it’s more. That’s more than my previous location.
What’s this neighborhood like? It’s a mostly business neighborhood since we’re near Greenway Plaza, but we get families from River Oaks and West University. We’re also at the bottom of a 16-story building.
What’s the biggest challenge for Houston restaurants? We have too many restaurants opening right now. The clientele does get diluted — there are only so many people who go out with disposable income.
Chefs have been a traditionally male-dominated profession. What advice do you have for women getting into restaurants? This industry should be more open to women because women have more patience and persistence. God made us that way. Women go through a lot of pains giving birth to children, so we have the ability to bear. Nurturing is our inborn trait, and you have to be nurturing in the restaurant business with these younger chefs. It’s not challenging at all being a woman chef. It’s been a plus for me. I started this career late, but I could see it be challenging for a young mothers.
What keeps you up at night? The pressure of making sure the kitchen is set, everyone’s there and we have all the ingredients. I’m sure I’ll have a little more routine in the future. We’ve only been open for about a month here.
What’s your best piece of advice? Be honest. It’s important to own your mistakes and not blame others.
How long do you expect to continue working in restaurants? I have a 20-year lease, so I want to go 20 years. I want to stay in business and cook until the last day of my life.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.