Rasmalai from Patel's Cafe (photo: Joseph Storch)
Rakesh Patel knows a trend when he sees one. Since 1973, his family has run the Patel Brothers Grocery on Devon Avenue, expanding it to 48 stores nationwide, including local stores in Hanover Park and Schaumburg. But he noticed that while women do the bulk of the shopping, the men and the children usually look painfully bored.
"I'm a little chubby guy, and I like slushies and ice cream," Patel said. "I thought, why not have a cafe next door that sells things like slushies, ice cream and smoothies."
Patel and his family opened Patel's Cafe a few weeks ago, right next door to the bustling grocery store on Devon Avenue. It looks like any other sweet shop or ice cream parlor: there's a long case with gallon-sized, colorful containers of ice cream, plus a healthy-leaning juice bar and a few blenders whipping up shakes and other sweet drinks. There's even a sweets case down at the end, with traditional Indian‚ burfees and halwas. But it's their ice cream that really takes an American icon and gives it a Hindi accent.
"We import the purees from India, then send our recipes to New York, where the ice creams are made," said Patel. The flavors are right at home among the saris and chaat shops: cashew raisin, lychee, figs, saffron pistachio, even mango kulfi. They'll change depending on the season and availability. Patel's also makes a terrific rasmalai - a frozen, sweetened condensed milk treat that's shaped into a patty, showered with slivered almonds and infused with aromatic cardamom and crunchy green pistachios.
"Atlanta is already open, and Dallas will open next month," Patel said. "Wherever we have large grocery stores, we'd like to put in a Cafe right next door."