- April 24, 2019
Horizon West residents looking for some authentic Indian cuisine are in luck.
Naan Stopp hosted a soft opening of its Windermere Village location Tuesday, May 10. Its grand opening will take place Friday, May 13.
The modern North Indian food concept will be authentic — but not too spicy — catering to the local palate with options for degree of spice and reasonable prices.
The eatery will be similar to A’TAJ Indian Restaurant in Celebration, owner Ram Atmakuri’s first food success in the United States. It will feature all the key Indian top sellers such as chicken tikka masala and butter chicken, with a dozen varieties of freshly baked Naan. It also will feature lamb, goat, fish, chicken and shrimp dishes, as well as beer and wine, both Indian and local.
Atmakuri’s passion for the hospitality industry began when he was a software engineer student in Russia.
He said there were not a lot of options when it came to quality Indian cuisine and other food choices were often limited.
Being deprived of good food, Atmakuri said if he ever saved enough money, he would open his own restaurant and offer the food he missed to his community.
Atmakuri moved in 1995 to the United States by himself to start his own small IT company, Success IT. Cooking and cleaning for just himself was a lot of work and took a lot of time, causing him to explore local food options that did not always satisfy his authentic Indian food cravings.
“My passion toward the food only grew day by day,” Atmakuri said. “I had to be financially independent first, and I just never lost that passion along the way on my journey.”
In 1997, Atmakuri met his wife and then had two daughters, one in 1999 and one in 2004. He said his family shared his passion for the food industry and helped him to build his first culinary success in India in 2011. Atmakuri said he was looking to do a Kentucky Fried Chicken concept in his small hometown, but the company was only expanding in the bigger parts of India.
Determined to continue to pursue his vision, Atmakuri started his own fried chicken concept, “American Fried Chicken.” He added spicier seasonings to cater toward the local palate, and the business was an instant rage.
In fewer than two years, AFC had more than 100 locations in India and is known as the biggest brand for fried chicken in the area behind KFC.
In 2014, Atmakuri decided to sell the business when it hit 100 locations.
“It was taking up a lot of my personal time and keeping me away from my family,” he said. “My family was in the U.S., and I was constantly traveling back and forth.”
The Windermere resident said he nurtured his IT company at the time but never forgot about his passion for hospitality.
In 2018, Atmakuri again found success in not one — but two — restaurants.
In the third quarter of 2018, he opened his first Indian restaurant in Celebration, A’TAJ Indian. The concept is known for its extraordinary combinations of flavors, delicate seasonings, full-flavored spices, yogurt-based marinades and complex tastes.
In the fourth quarter of 2018, Atmakuri opened the first location of The French Cafe in Horizon West’s Hamlin Town Center.
“What excited me about that project is that we are making all of our products from scratch, so the quality and pricing can be controlled with lots of different food and beverage options,” he said.
What money he made from AFC was invested back into the Hamlin location, and with the help of his mentor and friend, the former owner of My French Cafe, the new cafe took off.
In January 2020, Atmakuri opened the second location of The French Cafe in Windermere Village. Then, the pandemic changed everything.
“Suddenly, you don’t have any revenue, and you are trying to find ways to keep your employees and ways to pay rent to keep the business running,” Atmakuri said.
Although Atmakuri is the owner of two French cafes, many people still ask if he can recommend a good Indian restaurant.
The business owner said his A’TAJ staff suggested creating a platform for his team to grow and expand, but he was wondering where to do it with the Windermere Village plaza full and rent prices climbing.
Then, HUMBL closed in November 2021. Atmakuri acquired the space in February 2022.
Although the pandemic seems to be slowing down, he said his biggest challenge is still finding employees.
“Working habits of people have changed, and they want to be their own boss now,” he said. “They want to make their own hours, and opportunities like Uber give them a flexible schedule where they can spend more time with their families. It’s been hard to find quality staff.”
Moreover, costs have skyrocketed post-pandemic. Atmakuri said he used to buy a case of chicken for $42. Now, it’s $158.
However, despite the current challenges, Atmakuri has high hopes and aims to provide the best he can in terms of quality of food and service for the community he has now come to call home.
“I want to give good quality modern Indian food to the local audience — our friends, our family, our neighbors,” he said. “That is a core value of mine and the very reason why we started this. We want to create something people can enjoy close to their home.”
IF YOU GO
ADDRESS: 5845 Winter Garden Vineland Road, Suite 130
PHONE: (407) 347-5487
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. daily