By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Through serving up flavorful naans, curries, and biryanis, Naan -N- Curry has long gained a reputation for serving up some of the best Pakistani and Indian food on the Eastside.
The original Naan -N- Curry location, which opened in Renton in 2005, was founded by Majid Janjua. It was named after a popular restaurant in San Francisco whose owners were longtime friends of Majid’s, and he asked if he could borrow the name for his own venture in Washington state.
Shan Janjua, who is Majid’s oldest child of three, grew up watching his parents pursue various business ventures including a restaurant in Fremont, Calif. Shan spent time at the restaurant after school and on weekends, observing his parents put in countless hours into the establishment. Shan recalled a time when they were returning from a catering job around midnight.
A young child at the time, Shan was sitting in the back of a van with the catering leftovers when the food suddenly fell on him after Majid made a sharp turn.
“That was life for me at the time,” said Shan. “It was normal to see all that food and the accidents that happened in the food industry. Being around food all the time was normal, and I was always fascinated when [my dad] was cooking in the kitchen, and all these yummy foods would just come out of it.”
Opening a restaurant in Renton
Shan’s parents first came to the United States in the early 1980s. The family first settled in San Francisco, but when a job opportunity led them to Seattle in 1995, Majid worked in hospitality and nonprofit before focusing on his passion for cooking full-time. In 2005, he opened the first Naan -N- Curry in Washington right as Shan was about to start his undergrad education at the University of Washington.
Shan balanced his studies while spending as much time as he could at the new restaurant. As the business grew, he took on increased responsibilities as a manager and chef, learning how to manage the kitchen and testing his own cooking skills, like making kebabs, naan in the tandoori oven, and curries.
Naan -N- Curry’s menu comprises recipes that Majid came up with, and they’re a combination of what he’s learned over the years from his mother and friends, as well as from his time managing and cooking at restaurants in California.
Although Naan -N- Curry offers both Pakistani and Indian dishes — and there are noted overlaps between the two cuisines — the restaurant specializes in Pakistani fare. The menu includes Pakistani staples like haleem, a lamb dish with slow-cooked lentils and barley, and nihari, a beef shank stew slow-cooked in a curry sauce. The restaurant’s most popular dish is biryani, a seasoned rice dish simmered with saffron, meat, and homemade allspice powder.
“Pakistani food is not just about heat, especially in Lahore,” said Shan. Lahore is a city in northeastern Pakistan. Pakistani dishes can differ from Northern Indian cuisine. “Lahori food relies on a variety of spices to make the dish flavorful. This means there will be a mixture of green chilies, allspice, ginger, and whole roasted spices.”
A new business venture
Shan, who eventually earned a Masters in Business Administration from Seattle University, initially got a job in healthcare. But like his father, he also felt the entrepreneurial pangs of wanting to run his own business.
“I wanted the action — the everyday challenges we had at the restaurant, and this feeling brought me back to my days in Renton,” said Shan. “Even at my healthcare job, I was still helping out at the Renton restaurant all the time.”
With the success of Naan -N- Curry in Renton, Shan opened a second outpost in Issaquah in 2016. Because Renton had become a destination point for their food, the Janjua family knew they wanted to stay on the Eastside, and Issaquah was an accessible yet different destination for the restaurant’s existing clientele. The Issaquah location currently brings in about 90 percent of the business that the Renton one pulls in, just two and a half years after the Issaquah restaurant’s opening.
“My love of food and my parents’ cooking kept drawing me back to the restaurant industry,” said Shan.
“There’s a lack of Pakistani food in our area,” he added. “And a lot of the food we’d cook at the restaurant was the same as what we’d eat at home. And whenever people visit my parents, I’d still see them cook up 10 different things — they just wanted to make sure their guests remembered what they ate. I’d see their satisfaction … and that plays out now in what we do every day at the restaurant. We try to make sure everyone enjoys their food.”
While Shan acknowledged that opening a third location in either Redmond or Seattle would be a dream, the family is currently focused on maintaining the consistency of the food between the two locations.
“The restaurant business is very tough,” said Shan. Between balancing family duties and running a restaurant, Shan admitted that it was challenging to juggle the launch of the second location.
“All of my family, including my wife, mother, father, and sisters — we all played our own role to get the [Issaquah] restaurant running and off the ground,” said Shan. “It was always our dream to have more than one location, and we did it. We hope to run one more, one day.”
For more information, visit naanncurry.com.
Vivian Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.