Opening a restaurant was never Hema Potla’s plan. When the business-minded Potla moved to Chicago from her native Hyderabad, India in the 1980s, she wanted to open a beauty salon. But there wasn’t enough demand for her services, so she tried a candy store instead. Unfortunately for Potla, that endeavor was also short-lived. Luckily for the rest of us, she soon found the perfect recipe: After working in several restaurants as a kitchen-hand, her husband, Sam, encouraged her to apply her entrepreneurial instincts to her delicious cooking. Today, she is the owner and head chef of a sublime pair of restaurants that bear her name.
Hema’s Kitchen has two locations, one on Chicago’s famed stretch of Devon Avenue and another on Clark Street in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Both spots boast menus that include over 100 dishes from every region of India — to-die-for vegetable vindaloo, chicken biryani and bhuna gosht just to name a few — not to mention a master of ceremonies who is second to none.
For the first installment of our new series Kitchen Close-ups, we paid a visit to Hema’s Devon outpost.
Kitchen Close-ups offers an intimate introduction to characters in Chicago’s food and dining scene. The multimedia series runs weekly on WBEZ.org.