ALTAMONT – On maternity leave from her job as a dental office manager, Nadia Raza decided it was time to shake things up.
So she opened a restaurant.
It was the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Raza had an infant, two teenagers and zero experience as a restaurateur.
None of that fazed her.
A descendent of a long line of passionate cooks, she had sure-fire recipes, a strong business sense and a husband who runs a construction firm.
In December, she opened Curry Patta on Main Street in Altamont. The restaurant specializes in Pakistani food and features family recipes handed down for generations.
Born and raised in the Capital Region, Raza attended the University at Albany, where she majored in business and minored in child psychology. For about six years she lived in Pakistan, where she went into business for herself.
“I was a fashion designer, designing clothes, designing wedding wear for brides and doing fashion shows. I had a whole company,” she explained.
Upon returning to the United States, she reinvented herself as regional manager of three Capital Region dental offices, a job she held for about 18 years.
Cooking was always a passion but it never played into any of her professions.
“I’ve done the Schaghticoke Fair, Altamont Fair. I’ve had a booth. I’ve gone with my two older kids who are teenagers and we sold kabab rolls, but it was for fun,” she explained.
Raza’s husband, Joseph Conklin, suggested the career leap from office manager to restauranteur. Raza liked the idea. So, the two began hunting for a suitable site. They found one within walking distance of their home and Conklin went to work on renovations. Six weeks later, the space had transformed from a defunct sub shop to a high-end eatery.
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“The interior, it’s absolutely breathtaking,” Raza said. “Our ceilings are copper ceramic tiles. The paintings I brought in from Pakistan. Everything is maroon and gold. Even our silverware is gold. It’s fine dining.”
Curry Patta presently seats 30 diners indoors with appropriate social distancing. This spring, an outdoor dining area is slated to open with room for an additional socially distanced 75.
“We are going to have a 2,000-square-foot patio with a wraparound bar, belly dancers, live bands — and it will get insane,” Raza enthused.
Raza recruited two chefs to work at Curry Patta, one who ran a restaurant in Florida and another who was chef at the now-closed Latham Biryani Restaurant.
Curry Patta opened on Dec. 14, smack dab in the middle of a pandemic-ravaged holiday season. Raza said she wasn’t worried about the timing.
“Something in my heart just told me, ‘Just do it. Just go for it,’ ” she recounted.
Opening day started with a steady stream of customers. Then 4 p.m. hit and things got crazy.
“Between 4 and 8 p.m., we had 75 takeout orders. Our phone was [ringing] off the hook. We had to turn off the phone. We had to turn off our online tablet. … It was insanity,” she recalled. “It was overwhelming. I went home and had happy tears.”
Currently, about 75 percent of the restaurant’s business is takeout orders, but as customers receive the COVID-19 vaccine, more are coming to dine in, some from as far away as Saratoga Springs and Guilderland, she said.
Raza described the Pakistani food her restaurant serves as healthy, flavorful and loaded with herbs and spices.
“We use a lot of turmeric and cumin seeds, garlic, ginger,” she detailed, praising family members for providing inspiration.
“All these recipes have been handed down for years and years and years,” she said.
Curry Patta has quickly become known for its barbecued meat dishes, including lamb chops and spiced ground chicken seekh kababs, cooked in the restaurant’s clay oven.
Another customer favorite is naan bread, which comes in six varieties including cheese, potato-stuffed and ground-chicken-stuffed.
Among the most popular menu items are chicken tikka masala — boneless chicken cooked in a tomato sauce and fresh herbs — and the Curry Patta platter. Large enough to serve three, that platter features seekh and chapli kababs, boneless chicken tikka, lamb chops and more.
Raza’s personal favorite is the chicken chapli kabab.
“It’s ground chicken and they fry it into, like, a burger patty. I eat it with this green yogurt sauce. I eat that every day. It’s beyond delicious,” she said.
Raza said the most gratifying part of her new career is providing patrons with great service and food.
“People literally go home and they eat, and they call us to tell us how amazing the food is and how proud of us they are.
That is the best phone call. I get one like that every couple of days and it’s so amazing,” she said.
For more information, visit currypattacuisine.com.
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