Downtown Diners Now Have An Indian Option
The roster of internationally themed eateries in Davidson has grown by one, and the latest arrived by tuk-tuk! That’s the name of the three-wheel taxies ubiquitous throughout India, and therefore a logical focus of the décor at the new Masala Mastee (Food & Fun) Indian street food restaurant that Vishal and Marina (who prefer using just their first names) have opened in the heart of Davidson’s downtown business district.
For about six months it was just a banner promising “Coming Soon: Indian Street Food.” The restaurant has now kept that vow and invites diners to order from a menu whose names may be
unfamiliar — such as Vada Pav, Pani Puri, and the Pakora Platter. But fear not! The original Indian name printed on the menu is translated into English and explained on the line below. Special treatment items are listed by their abbreviation —VE as vegan, V as vegetarian, D for dairy, GF for gluten free. Prices for lunch range from $8 to $12.
Vishal explained that the opening was delayed due to Mecklenburg County requirements and the uncertain circumstances of COVID-19. He wanted to make sure everything was perfect in the venture that has been their dream for six years. He said, “I always wanted to open a restaurant in Davidson. I had opportunities to work several other places, but Davidson has always been the place we wanted to live and work. I love the people in town, but it took our life savings to finally make the finances work.”
Vishal was born in India and lived there until 1997 when at age 9, his family moved to America. Marina is Egyptian, and the couple married in 2016. They have a toddler son, Shaan. They have been living in Mooresville but hope to find a house in Davidson.
In 2003 Vishal and his parents opened Sangam Indian Cuisine, the first Indian restaurant in the area. That sparked Vishal’s interest in the hospitality field, so in 2009 he enrolled in Johnson and Wales Culinary School.
He knew he wanted to serve Indian street food, rather than Indian classical food.
Classical, he explained, is more formal, with an extensive menu and guests seated and served. On the other hand, street food includes a limited menu of items which are displayed on carts parked beside the street. “You literally can pick up an item and eat as you walk,” said Vishal. He acknowledged the fact that there are several fine classical Indian restaurants in the region, but opening the only place serving street food between here and Asheville gives him something unique to offer.
His opportunity arrived this past April when the bakery in the Deal House vacated the space downtown. But circumstances seemed difficult at best. The pandemic was raging, their son Shaan was an active toddler, and the space needed to be renovated into a full kitchen. Vishal hung the “Coming Soon” sign and waited for the economy to improve.
He began behind-the-scenes renovations as he could afford them. The full kitchen with exhaust system was expensive, as was the custom created décor. The walls inside the dining area are adorned with colorful, comic, India-themed posters, and the TV hung in the corner streams out Bollywood videos. He worked with artists in India to find and buy the front half of a tuk tuk and mounted it on wheels so it can be pushed around the sidewalk and patio. The windshield is cut out, leaving space for photo ops! Enhancing the transportation theme, the service counter inside is fashioned to look like the front of a Tata brand truck.
Space for diners is somewhat limited for now. Inside there are two tables and four seats at the bar, and on the front patio outside there is space for 24 more. However, Vishal noted that capacities will increase as the pandemic and its restrictions on indoor dining recedes. A staff of at least three will interact with customers and work the kitchen.
For now, Masala Mastee will open 11-3 for lunch, 5-9:30 for dinner, and Friday and Saturday until 10. It is closed for lunch on Tuesday. Their menu is provided below:
Bill Giduz was the son who followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. He has been involved his entire life with news and photography in schools he attended and jobs he’s held. He believes now that he’s got a few good years left to devote to The News of Davidson.