Ramesh Kumar is the kind of businessman who believes in giving back.
And he’s a strong supporter of First Responders including firefighters, police officers, sheriff’s officers and those in the military.
Kumar is the owner of the Gandhi Cuisine of India restaurant at 9621 Mickelberry Road SW. He opened the restaurant and lounge in 2001 and recently decided that on the last Monday of each month, any First Responder (fire, police, sheriff’s officer, EMT) active military member, veteran and their families can come and eat for free.
“Just about everywhere you go you see signs that say ‘Support Our Troops,’ “ he said. “But just saying it is not enough. We have to do something more.”
As a businessman with a wife and three children at home, he’s not rolling in dough. But he decided that one thing he could do is share the talent he does have, and that’s his restaurant.
Kumar came to the United States from his homeland of India at age 16. He came from an upper class family and his father worried that Kumar might be a target because his father was politically active. So he sent him to live with his uncle in Norway. Within a very short time, Kumar decided that living with his uncle would not work out, so he moved to Los Angeles.
There, he was on his own. He started washing dishes in a restaurant and remembers sleeping in a park, until he had enough money to rent an apartment. Within a few years, he was able to open his own restaurant.
He liked Los Angeles, but there was a lot of competition. A friend from Seattle told him he should open a restaurant in the Silverdale area because there were no Indian restaurants.
So Kumar decided to check it out.
“I was driving up the highway and all I could see was trees,” he said. “I thought my friend was playing a joke on me.”
But soon he found the heart of Silverdale, near Kitsap Mall and found just the place for his restaurant. He moved his wife, who is originally from Virginia, and his one-year-old daughter to Kitsap and began making plans to open his restaurant.
After months of planning, and relocating one of his best chefs to Silverdale, everything was ready for the opening, which was slated for the second week in September 2001.
Then September 11 happened.
“It changed everything,” he said. “People seemed to fear me. Sometimes they would say things, and we had knocks on our door in the middle of the night.”
Kumar didn’t know what to do. He worried that opening the restaurant in an area where there was so much military wasn’t now going to work, because of what happened on Sept. 11. He knew he wasn’t Middle Eastern. But, he said, he was dark skinned and at that time, many Americans feared anyone who was foreign.
“I talked to my wife and thought about it very seriously,” he said. “I knew I liked Silverdale and I knew there were very good people here. So I decided to go ahead with my plans.”
He opened his restaurant a month later in October and has never been sorry.
“This city has always made me feel happy,” he said. “After many years of being here, I love it more and more everyday.”
In fact, the restaurant in Silverdale has done so well that he opened a second restaurant on Bainbridge Island in 2006, named Spice Route, and a third restaurant in Puyallup in 2008 named Karma.
“These are not like franchise places,” he said. “Each place has its own chef and that chef makes each dish his own way.”
That’s why each restaurant has its own name, he said.
But his policy is the same at each. He wants the restaurants to support the local community. So, he offers the free military meals in Puyallup which is close to Joint Base Lewis McChord. And on Bainbridge, where there isn’t a lot of military, he offers special days when he gives half of the day’s proceeds to the local high school band.
Kumar’s children now are ages 13, 11 and 6 and attend public schools in Kitsap County. He tries to spend as much time as he can with them, but the restaurant business is demanding. And he often travels to Puyallup to work at Karma.
“Sometimes my children say they would like to have me at home more,” he said. “But I try to help them understand that I am working hard so that they can have a good life. And I don’t mean things. I mean an opportunity to get a good education.”
Kumar, himself, never finished high school, although he has hopes of someday getting his high school diploma. As a fifth grader, his father sent him to join the military of India, but soon after his grandmother came and got him, telling him he was too young.
“I was the only son of her son,” he said. “She wanted the family to go on and she feared I would die.”
His respect for the military came at a young age.
“Even when I was a child and saw soldiers in India, I wanted to shake their hands,” he said. “That stayed with me when I came to the United States.”
In fact, in Los Angeles, he spoke to a recruiter and hoped to join the U.S. military. But his health prevented that.
So, now, as a U.S. citizen, with a wife who also is a U.S. citizen and his children who were born in the U.S., he considers members of the military as people who should be honored in word and deed.
“When I decided to take my citizenship test, it wasn’t just something I did,” he said. “I thought a lot about it. It wasn’t just an exchange of papers. I knew after going back to India to visit that I didn’t belong there any longer. It is my home, but it’s not home. And I knew if I was going to live in America, I needed to be a citizen. I started studying.”
He said living in the U.S. made him a “better human.”
No one ever treated me badly because I was just a dishwasher,” he said. “In India, it wouldn’t be that way. There is so much corruption there. Here, people are able to see who you really are and give you a chance.”
That’s why he will keep his restaurant going and honor firefighters, law enforcement personnel, EMTs and the military with free meals as long as he can.
“I’ll do it every month until I run out of money,” he said.