Walking into Kebab & Curry Buffet is like taking a quick trip to India. As soon as the doors open, your nostrils are hit with the smell of spices unique to that part of the world: curry, cumin, saffron and ginger. Your eardrums are hit with the sound of India, too, as Bollywood tunes flow through the speakers.
A place like this has only been in Gainesville for about six months, but Kony Akhtar, who owns the restaurant with her husband Sajid, said business has been great. Kebab & Curry at 833 Dawsonville Highway is the second location they’ve opened since they decided to start this venture in 2011, with the first location being in Buford.
Kebab & Curry Buffet
Where: 833 Dawsonville Highway, Gainesville
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
“We are really happy here in Gainesville and with how the population has responded to our food,” Kony Akhtar said.
She’s from Honduras and her husband is from Pakistan. They met at an airport and fell in love. But Kony Akhtar had never had Indian or Pakistani food before. She was nervous to try it, but when she finally did, she said she fell in love with it, too.
They both came to the United States and started working for fast-food restaurants like Wendy’s and Bojangles’. But they said they always wanted more.
“We had a dream of we should have our own business one day,” Kony Akhtar said.
They decided to open their first Kebab & Curry restaurant in Buford because they didn’t see a lot of competition in the area. Customers would drive from all over to get the food, with many coming from the north.
After years of being asked by customers to open a location closer so they didn’t have to drive so far and fight traffic, the Akhtars decided to do it.
They chose Gainesville for a lot of the same reasons they chose Buford. There was nothing around that offered the kind of food they were serving.
Scott Fugate, a drama teacher in Gainesville, was one of those customers who had to drive to Buford for years until Kebab & Curry opened in Gainesville. He said he lived in England for a long time, and all he ate was Indian food. So when he moved back to the U.S., he missed his favorite cuisine.
“It’s the only place in North Georgia to get this kind of food, the only place in the entire area,” Fugate said. “If you go there once and you like it, you’re going to keep coming back. Besides, there’s no way you can try everything on one visit.”
There’s chicken biryani, which is marinated chicken, mixed with rice, nuts and spices, and there are some more exotic choices like goat korma, which is meat that has been braised in yogurt and spices to create a thick and creamy sauce, and lamb meatballs, too.
“They are hungry for real, homemade food, fresh,” Kony Akhtar said. “And that’s what we have here.”
She said those fresh ingredients come straight from India, and they use them to blend their own spices for the dishes they have on the lunch buffet and after 3 p.m. on the a la carte menu.
The spices are used in everything from chicken tandoori, which is marinated with 42 different spices for at least 36 hours, then baked in a clay oven, to the popular chicken curry recipe they say they have perfected.
Kebab & Curry uses small dishes in its buffet line to ensure the food coming out is fresh and hasn’t been sitting there for hours. Kony Akhtar described the food as “exotic, delicious and romantic,” which she said brings customers back time and time again.
“I probably would have never eaten anything like this before, but I’m glad I did,” said Hope Brown, a student at Brenau University who was trying the restaurant for her first time after seeing good reviews online. “It’s really good. I’m probably coming back, probably going to get a to-go plate. It’s great.”
Kony Akhtar said they weren’t sure how people would respond to the spiciness of Indian food, so they make things more mild at their restaurant. But they always offer spicier sauces on the side.
Fugate said everyone needs to try it at least once because it not only “opens your palate,” but it “opens your mind” to new experiences.
Customers like Fugate are what keep the Akhtars going. They try to treat everyone who comes to the restaurant like family, and it seems their customers do the same. Kony Akhtar said customers sometimes bring flowers or cookies when they visit the restaurant, and it’s gestures like that that make the move to Gainesville worthwhile.
“In Buford, I lived six years and had great customers, but I’ve never had them this close,” Kony Akhtar said. “I feel that over here, in this town, they like you, and they take care of you and that’s what I love about it.”