Owners of Wise Cup, Naveen and Shivangi Khetarpal face COVID and construction, but use creativity to increase business.
Lake Street construction and the COVID-19 outbreak have brought an onslaught of challenges to Wise Cup owners, Naveen and Shivangi Khetarpal. The Oak Park residents remain optimistic their coffee shop, 1018 Lake St., will make it through this difficult time thanks to being on a first name basis with their customers and hosting pop-up meals featuring regional Indian fare.
Despite being denied a federal PPP loan, Wise Cup has managed to retain all employees throughout the pandemic. The owners streamlined their menu and reduced their hours of operation to help control costs and keep their staff on site. To further complicate matters, the ongoing street construction project compromised their outdoor seating area and many of the shop’s regular customers worked in the office building surrounding the shop and are now working from home. Additionally, the Khetarpals are not comfortable opening their diminutive shop for indoor dining due to safety concerns.
“We have to be resilient,” said Naveen. “Financially this has been terrible, but we are heartened when our regulars come in. We refer to our customers as neighbors. To us it’s all about community.”
Now, more than ever, creativity is vital to the survival of Wise Cup. While Khetarpal is American born, Sandal is Indian born. When she first arrived in this country, she would fatigue on American food and long for a taste of home. She tried restaurant after restaurant but had the same lackluster experience at most every establishment.
“I was fresh off the boat and I just kept saying this isn’t Indian food,” laughed Shivangi.
“Most Indian restaurants serve Americanized Punjabi food,” said Naveen. “Most people don’t fully understand the breadth of diversity in Indian cuisine.”
When the newlyweds opened Wise Cup three and half years ago, in addition to offering traditional coffee, pastries and breads (fun fact, you can get Daly Bagels at Wise Cup), the couple outsourced a smattering of Indian dishes for their menu.
Flavorful potato and pea samosas and yogurt-based mango lassis are among the regular menu items that inspired Wise Cup’s Indian pop up meals. The first Saturday of every month, Wise Cup offers a pre-ordered menu of regional Indian street food dishes for carryout. Meals sell out quickly and customers are given strict pick-up windows to ensure social distancing is maintained throughout the day. The menu rotates from month-to-month and features an array of regional Indian dishes. Past menus have included summer specials like samosa chaat featuring stewed chickpeas topped with a golden samosa and topped with chutney, yogurt, onions, and tomatoes. Creative lentil flights and garlic naan satisfy curious diners, while Wise Cup’s roti tacos bring a taste of Calcutta to Lake Street.
In August Wise Cup will offer dishes from Mumbai for pre-order. Pav bhaji, a popular vegan stew of assorted vegetables including cauliflower, peas, peppers and Indian spices, is set to be on the menu. Interested parties can call the shop or follow Wise Cup on Facebook and Instagram to learn how to place an order.
“We have repeat customers who have been very satisfied,” said Naveen. “People can pick up their meal and bring it home or enjoy it in the outdoor dining space on Westgate.”