When nearby Arizona State University went to remote classes last spring, the college-student customer base the restaurant relies on vanished. Since 2010, Curry Corner has been a staple in Tempe, with reasonable prices and generous portions of Indian and Pakistani dishes aimed at hungry undergrads.
"It was real bad for us," Khalid says. Plus, "Most of our [takeout] profits went to third-party delivery services like DoorDash and GrubHub."
They laid off staff and "put in money from our own pockets to keep the restaurant going," Khalid says. During the pandemic, she had only two to three people working in the kitchen; sometimes her son and daughter would pitch in to help. "I felt bad that I had to let staff go, but I didn't have a choice," she says.
Then Todd Graves came along.
Yes, that Todd Graves: the founder and co-CEO of Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers.
Raising Cane's didn't struggle through the pandemic the way so many other eateries did. But Graves wanted to find a way to pay it forward. He decided to lend a hand to restaurants across the country that were closing or on the verge of closing — and to film it. His new television show, Restaurant Recovery, follows Graves and his team as they help out 10 mom-and-pop restaurants across the country. Curry Corner was among those selected (and is the only Arizona restaurant to be featured on the show).
In October 2020, a representative from Restaurant Recovery contacted Khalid about an interview and asked her to apply for the show. But the final selection was still a surprise.
Embracing the process meant allowing Graves and his crew to take over. Filming began in November 2020. Khalid was interviewed while the crew took a look at the restaurant. Then Graves asked Khalid to turn over her keys to the restaurant.
The crew transformed the next-door space that Khalid owned by giving her a second business and possibilities of a different income stream with Chai Corner.
"My dreams came true," she says. "In the past, I couldn't unveil Chai Corner in the way I wanted, but Todd read my mind, and he gave me exactly what I needed."
Chai Corner is decked out with modern gadgets, food processors, juice machines, and panini machines. It's only doing takeout at the moment, but Khalid is grateful for the second source of income. She hopes that the business will pick up once ASU is open again and she gets more coverage on television.
As for Curry Corner: To help with the original business's profits, Graves provided a customized logo car for delivery services. "Hurry for Curry "is splashed across the vehicle. Khalid hopes this car will help with the business.
And she hopes the most difficult times are behind her.
"I am looking on the brighter side, when the university opens, the students will return and usually will come every single day," Khalid says. "After the summer, I know things will be much better."
The Curry Corner episode of Restaurant Recovery is streaming on Discovery+ currently and will air June 1 on The Food Network.