Serving Indian cuisine, Thali utilizes seasonal ingredients to create their menu each week, with a strong emphasis on local produce. Thali serves vegetarian and vegan plates with unlimited portions.
When my family ate at Thali, we were pleasantly surprised at how healthy the menu was, contrary to our experiences at other Indian restaurants. I knew that I had to meet with Thali’s Co-Owner, Serj, to find out more about authentic Indian culture.
The most apt description for Serj is the literal translation of his full name, Sukhjit, which means “remaining in peace.” Serj grew up in India, and was 17 when he moved to the United States. Since then he’s been back to India once. Serj speaks Punjabi, Hindi, English, and a little Urdu, which is a mixture of Arabic and Hindi.
Serj graciously invited me to tag along on his typical morning routine before opening Thali. One of our stops was the Great Basin Community Co-op (Co-op), where Serj sources the local produce for Thali’s menu. Serj greeted everyone working at the Co-op by name, and showed me the detail that he puts in to learning where each item on their menu comes from. Along the way, I learned about how Thali enables Serj to support the local economy and connect with Indian culture.
Lexi Robertson: What does “Thali” Mean?
Serj Singh: “Thali” means a plate, it’s whatever we can find that’s local and seasonal. Local produce changes with the seasons. In the winter we have more squashes, like butternut squash. You’ll get more greens during the summer time. You’ll see our menu change in the same way.
My partner is the produce and kitchen manager at the Co-op. He’s the one I transfer all the orders to. He knows all the farmers, and I have visited most of the farms already. I know by face who is a farmer. There’s several farms we work with, as local as we can get. If I can find onions in Reno, I buy onions in Reno. Our menu is set up to get as much local food as we can use.
What is Thali’s mission?
To stay close to my family and show the real home cooking culture of India. Usually, you go to a restaurant, and that food is different than what you cook at home. At Thali, we cook in small batches, if we run out of food we are closed, and we are not pressuring our employees. I want them to enjoy while I enjoy. That’s the whole idea. My mom is not pressured to do more than she can. I wanted to be close to my culture. Since I moved to America, I’ve gone back to India once. Thali is the way to stay close to that, for my kids. The food is a big part of any culture. How you feed yourself, you know how you treat others. It plays into everything into your daily life.
I believe in staying close to culture and supporting local economy. Our menu shows that. If I was in India or cooking at home, I’d be doing the exact same thing. I’d be buying from locals, exchanging with my neighbors. It’s staying close to where you live. When your food becomes seasonal, it’s much healthier for you. And you’re supporting several families: the distributor, the employees on the farm, the farmer, your employees. It’s a cycle.
What’s it like to work at Thali?
We love working here. My mom and her friend cook the food. My mom comes in and she loves talking. She loves when someone says they like her food. Everyone who works here is happy to be here and to serve. It’s a nonprofit mission. It helps the community in a way. My mom decides what we’re going to cook and I tell her which produce is available. We talk about that and we pick the menu from there. It’s easy for us to pick the menu because it’s all based on seasonal availability.
Everyone gets paid the same. No one is a boss over anyone. Whoever works gets paid by their hours. Everyone who works here is a part-owner. We make decisions together. If we’re going to have a logo, everyone has to agree with it. It took us 6 months to pick our logo because we all had to agree.
What do you wish people understood about authentic Indian culture?
Outside the food, I wish people understood that migrants from India, they are coming in to work hard. It’s that pre-judgment, not putting themselves in the shoes of that person. It’s really hard for me to understand why people pre-judge or have hate crimes against the appearances of the person, not learning what that person is and why that person is like that.
I’m in a limbo right now. I’m half Indian, half American. Most of my friends are Americans. My kids, I’m trying to teach them the value of three cultures, English, Punjabi, then Spanish from my wife’s side. I want them to see the good part of all these cultures. We don’t have a TV at home, so I’m trying to show them all the world is nice, there’s people who might not be nice to each other, might not nice to you, but you just have to accept them. It’s been hard to put all the things together. My religion teaches acceptance.
What’s important to you about how you raise your daughters?
I have three daughters, ages 7, 3, and 1. All three girls. I want to train them early to become business owners instead of Barbie dolls. I want them to be women who can handle big corporations. I think that’s where females can change the world. We are starting little by little, like with the International Women’s Day. We need awareness big time in this world. If the female is not in the world, there’s no men. I think people should start valuing that. Females are everything. If you’re not going to pay them well, degrade them, turn them into barbie’s waiting for their prince, that’s not going anywhere. I raise my girls like ‘hey you can run a business’. I want my daughters to feel like they can do anything. They can achieve. They can go to Mars without any guy’s help.
I tell my kids to focus on their education, after you finish your PhD, you do whatever you want. Education is what’s going to make you come out of your shell, open your eyes to the world. You can be educated and not know the world. I think everyone needs to get out of their own country and travel and learn about other cultures. See how hard it is for other cultures to raise their kids. Even a poor person in America can sleep inside in the winter if they want. In a lot of countries they don’t have those facilities. Here, you have a roof on your head, you have food on your plate, what else do you need?
Thali is open every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 5-9 pm at 148 West St, Reno, NV 89501. Check Thali out at their Website, view their daily menu on Facebook, tweet at them with #Thalireno, or find see what Thali devotees are eating on Instagram.
If you’ve been lucky enough to experience Thali, leave a reply to let me know what you think! And to Serj: thank you so much for teaching me about yourself, Thali, and true Indian culture.