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Preeti Waas is expanding her popular Cheeni concept into a whimsical Indian food emporium.
There’s nothing like Cheeni Indian Food Emporium in Raleigh. Or maybe anywhere.
The new concept from Preeti Waas—scheduled to open in February in northeast Raleigh—is a coalescence of a range of ideas that have been kicking around in the restaurateur and former Wake Take culinary professor’s head for more than two decades. As the name suggests, the emporium’s offerings will be expansive, ranging from a demonstration kitchen to a cafe to a retail space with spices and cookbooks from Indian authors.
“The word emporium is evocative of a store or space that’s filled to the brim with things,” Waas told Raleigh Magazine in an exclusive interview. “You never know what you might find. That’s really what I’m going for.”
This is not your stereotypical Indian lunch buffet where a photo of the Taj Mahal looms over portions of chicken tikka masala and butter chicken. Instead, Cheeni Indian Food Emporium will rotate its menu weekly to highlight the seemingly endless range of regional Indian culinary traditions.
“Indian food has been put into a box, which is so unfortunate because it’s a large subcontinent,” said Waas. “Every 15 miles, you have a new cuisine almost.”
Waas is North Indian but was born and raised in South India. She often runs into preconceived notions about both what Indian food entails and what types of Indian food she excels at cooking. The emporium is a way to avoid being pigeonholed, and to offer an exciting and ever-changing mix of dishes, events and opportunities that she was unable to do at her first cafe, Cheeni Chai + Coffee +Tiffin.
Opened in Downtown Raleigh in late 2019, Cheeni drew enough praise and interest that Waas was quickly able to expand to a second location at the Alexander Family YMCA on Hillsborough Street near NC State. The original spot closed indefinitely at the end of 2021 due to the pandemic, but Waas is open to reviving it in the future.
Cheeni Indian Food Emporium—which will be located near the Falls of Neuse exit on 540—is much larger than Cheeni (just over 2,700 square feet), combining two storefronts that used to house a coffee shop and the Hop Yard (which relocated within the same shopping center). It will build on the success of the existing Cheeni locations, with its snacks, masala chai and Indian filtered coffee. But the emporium will also feature an Indian deli concept, more premade takeout meals and a full dine-in menu as well. And the emporium also boasts a larger commercial kitchen, adding capacity that can support the Hillsborough location too, added Waas.
“Indian regional cuisine is not being touched—at least in our area—at all,” explained Waas.
There will be staples like keema pav, which she likened to “Indian sloppy Joes,” and Cheeni’s popular veg puffs, but Waas hopes people will come ready to try something new. The emporium will also offer cooking demos and events with cookbook authors, kitchen staples from brands like Brooklyn Delhi, and pop-up dinners with chefs like Cheetie Kumar.
Waas is intentionally expanding beyond the center city, opening closer to where her family lives.
“To me, North Raleigh is a food desert, especially when it comes to cuisines that are not mainstream in America,” she said. That’s especially true for her attempts to find quality Indian food nearby. “I would like Americans to know about the various regions of India through its food. I make what I would make at home with my family. I’d like to make their experience personal.” And at the emporium, that dream becomes a reality. cheeniraleigh.com
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