Two restaurants reach the decade mark
by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, January 26, 2012
Yashoda Naidoo has a photographic memory. That’s the reason she was able to open Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café only 18 months after she started teaching herself to cook.
For Naidoo, the exercise came out of necessity. As a strict vegetarian who won’t eat nightshade plants like eggplant or tomato and who’s allergic to American wheat, she found her gastronomic options limited when she moved to Albuquerque in 2000. Because there were no vegetarian restaurants in town at the time, Naidoo decided she’d have to provide her own sustenance. “I didn’t know how to cook,” she says, so she learned by trial and error.
Her experiments started with memory. She remembered the kinds of dishes her family made while she was growing up and, due to that expert recollection of hers, she knew the ingredients they used. Incorporating the Ayurvedic philosophies she was raised with, Naidoo soon found that not only could she cook, but she could cook really well, and the food she made was healthful and energizing. Bored with her job as a CPA, she quit and followed her newly discovered passion. Annapurna was born.
That was a decade ago. Naidoo celebrated the restaurant’s 10-year anniversary this month, and she’s got a lot more planned for the future. Annapurna now has three locations (the flagship spot near UNM as well as cafés on north Fourth Street and in Santa Fe), and Naidoo’s got her hopes set on three more—in Denver, Tucson and Phoenix. Most exciting to her, though, is her vision for a new restaurant. “It’s still going to be a vegetarian and vegan concept,” she says, “but it might be on the smaller scale.” While she’s not willing to part with many details yet, she does say the new project will focus on “a whole new customer out there that the restaurant industry is not catering to.”
In the meantime, hungry patrons can find plenty of gluten-free, soy-free, vegetarian, vegan and Ayurvedic options at her bustling Annapurna locations. “We’re here to stay,” says Naidoo. “And we’re here to continue to bring you healing food. We’ll be around.”
This will be owner David Chitchakkol’s final year at Thai Crystal, which he opened after moving to Albuquerque from Southern California. Before starting his own restaurant, Chitchakkol worked as a general manager at one of Wolfgang Puck’s cafés in Beverly Hills. A decade later, Thai Crystal has become a go-to dinner-and-a-movie destination. (It’s right around the corner from the Downtown cineplex.)
The reason Chitchakkol is moving on? Primarily, a promise to his wife. She retired in 2004, but so far she’s spent her golden years helping him run the business. At the end of 2012, Chitchakkol’s going to put down the skillet and spend some time traveling to different meditation retreats around the world with his wife. While they plan on keeping their house in Albuquerque, eventually they want to spend six months out of the year in their native Thailand.
There’s a chance Thai Crystal may stay open when Chitchakkol resigns. His son has expressed some interest in taking over. “He’s young, he still has energy,” Chitchakkol laughs. Several other potential buyers have also expressed interest.
Ultimately, the restaurant’s fate will come down to the state of the economy. Chitchakkol chose Thai Crystal’s location based on the promise of swelling Downtown development. Seated on Gold directly across from the Gold Lofts, he was told the building would be filled with residences, retail and offices. “But it’s moving so slow,” he says.
Still, Chitchakkol says he’s loved the past 10 years of his life in the city, visiting with diners and establishing a place in the community. “I just want to thank you, Albuquerque,” he says, adding that he hopes Thai Crystal’s doors will stay open. “If somebody wants to come in and put in a lot of hard work,” he says, “the reward is here.”