Pratima Vallepalli was knee-high to a grasshopper when she fell in love with cooking.
She'd crowd in close to her mom in the kitchen of their popular family restaurant in southern India and by osmosis soaked in the secrets of recipes handed down through the generations.
She learned how to take exotic Indian spices, intermingle them just so and produce authentic, flavorful Indian cuisine that oftentimes includes chicken, goat, lamb, shrimp or fish, along with a variety of fresh veggies and their famous Biryani.
Today Pratima is the mom in the restaurant kitchen and her 6-year-old son, Sathvik, is by her side learning to cook. Pratima moved to the states 10 years ago, and to Mt. Juliet two years ago. She is one of the owners of Mt. Juliet's rare Indian restaurant, Persis Biryani Indian Grill, recently opened and located at 630 S. Mt. Juliet Road near Providence.
One of their signature dishes, Dum Biryani, sums up her philosophy. She explained delicious food is a small, but powerful, way humans experience happiness. What started as a delicacy in the royal kitchens of the Nizam of Hyderabad and served as the centerpiece of wedding feasts has enthralled the Indian population for centuries. Now locals can experience this food in Mt. Juliet.
"We have seen millions of people derive great satisfaction from a plate of authentic, flavorful royal cuisine (biryani) and wanted America to experience this pleasure as our signature dish," Pratima said.
Biryani is basmati rice usually cooked with a choice of meat or vegetable, blended with herbs and spices, then garnished with egg, onion, and lemon, and served with yogurt raitha and pepper gravy, according to head Chef Thavam, who is the soul behind all their inspired dishes.
Pratima did say while biryani is one of their signature dishes, many of those who dine in their large restaurant love other dishes on their menu such as shrimp tandoori (shrimp marinated in yogurt, blended with spices, then grilled in a tandoor clay oven), chicken tikka masala (marinated chicken grilled and simmered in a tomato gravy) and egg curry. They have a multitude of dishes on the menu that includes vegetarian and non-vegetarian appetizers and entrees, as well as a plethora of Roti Gahr (Indian bread), sides, deserts and even an intriguing children's menu.
"We do serve beer, also Indian beer, and hope to soon get our license to serve wine and such," Pratima said.
Journey to Mt. Juliet
Petite in stature, Pratima is no-nonsense when it comes to running a restaurant. She's had a lot of practice with the menu items (she single-handedly put together the menu she says will evolve when her diners express delight in certain dishes which will become specials) because before she became a restaurateur she was a very vied-for caterer in Nashville.
"It all started rather simply," she said.
And, of all things, it was a birthday party for her son that got things in motion. She and her friend put on the party of all parties, about 70 friends, and it was a hit. Not only for her son, but the menu had people talking. Word spread, and her catering business began and bloomed into a four-year gig.
"One party was for 400 people," she said with a smile.
People loved her exotic food, not found in too many places around here. From 2010 to 2014 she was immersed in her business, but somewhere in the back of her mind she was prepping for the restaurant business.
"I knew I wanted to grow it to the next level," she said.
She and her partners (who know the business end of the restaurant scene) scoured the market. Pratima ate at nearly every Indian restaurant in Nashville, and knew she could offer even more.
"I moved to Mt. Juliet and just loved this area, we explored everywhere, but I wanted to be here. Community wise, the people here are just so good," she said.
They decided on a Persis franchise holding 20 locations all over USA and it's been gung-ho ever since. Her first teacher, mom, came from India to help open the business.
"My goal is to share our nativity, our culture, to Americans," she said quietly. "We've had such a wonderful response. We cook always from fresh, not processed anything! Our restaurant has a wonderful ambiance. We've been embraced."
She said she knows most Americans won't travel to India, so she's brought India smack dab in the heart of Mt. Juliet.
"We custom make our recipes, just for you," she said. "If you don't want a lot of spice, we hold back. We just want to share our culture and our food. It's a new and exciting experience for everyone."
And, when you speak of spice in Indian food, it's not the sear-your-throat, send you to a glass of water spice, but rather exotic spices from afar than blend together beautifully for the palate.
While there's alfresco dining in the summer, inside's where it's at as we go into the holidays. Two premier Indian chefs keep it going in the kitchen and seating goes up to 80 people in the front of the restaurant. Their Facebook has blown up and just after a month, they have good rating on Yelp. They even take reservations, which is a rare treat these days in the world of dining.
The restaurant world is wide open for this local entrepreneur. Most of her main players in the business live in Mt. Juliet and call this community home. Yes, there are plans for possible future restaurants and there seems to be space right next door without a tenant at this moment. It's hush-hush, but if things go well, perhaps they might spread out a bit in the future here.
"We love it here," said Pratima. "We want people to experience our culture and we are happy we have repeat customers!"
One is Mt. Juliet commissioner Brian Abston. He's crazy about Indian food, and once he found Persis, he can't stay away.
"If you have not tried Indian food before, you need to try this place," he said. "I'm sure you will like it. If you already like Indian food you will love it. It has a fresh, modern atmosphere and is a welcome addition to the Providence area. This is locally-owned by Providence residents who have put their faith and money into the area they reside."
For more information about hours and such, call (615) 288-3786. They also have a website and Facebook page.
Writer Laurie Everett may be contacted at email@example.com.