Categorized | Bronx Neighborhoods, Food

Curry comes to Morrisania

Hungry Bird on East 164th Street, the newest restaurant to open in Morrisania, introduces Indian cuisine to the neighborhood for the first time. (SWATI GUPTA / The Bronx Ink)

A steady stream of customers wandered into Morrisania’s Hungry Bird one September evening, drawn inside the brand new restaurant accompanied by the unusual aroma of curried chicken. Indian cuisine was practically unknown on East 164th Street and Morris Avenue until local entrepreneur, Azizur Rahman, decided to open the quaint eatery three weeks earlier.

Wooden spoons hung on the painted walls behind him as the 47-year-old owner, originally from New Delhi, India greeted his customers.

Rahman’s life-long dream had been to introduce Morrisania to his native cooking. In addition to traditional Indian dishes, he plans to include Dominican and American menu items to ease the transition. “One step in, and people can get whatever they want,” said Rahman.

Local residents know Rahman as the manager of Dunkin’ Donuts four blocks away on 161st Street, where he has been working for the last 15 years. His plans to set up his own business finally took shape two years ago when his family in India was able to provide $100,000 in start-up capital. His younger sister Sabrina Khan and her husband Mahatab Hussein help out with the cash register and overseeing the kitchen.

The Hungry bird stands out among the very few restaurants that are scattered around a neighborhood mostly populated with grocery stores and 99 cent stores.

Small businesses have been opening up slowly in Morrisania in the past few years. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, the number of restaurants has nearly doubled in the South Bronx between 2010 and 2011.

Michael Nixon, a business development officer at the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation said that his office received around 10 to 15 requests for new business loans every month. Most of those businesses like Rahman’s, he said, are financed by a close network of friends and families,.

Rahman, who immigrated to New York 16 years ago, still works at Dunkin’ Donuts, putting in 18-hour days working two jobs, and commuting back and forth from Brooklyn where he lives with his wife and two teenage children. His normal workday begins at 6 a.m. at Dunkin’ Donuts, and ends at 11 p.m. after he closes Hungry Bird. It’s a schedule he believes will pay off eventually. Early customer counts have already exceeded his early projections. He planned for 40 food orders a day and is currently seeing 70.

One customer agreed to talk only after he wiped his plate clean of the chicken and rice. As he paid his check, Sylla Boubacar said he was going to keep coming. “It is just the beginning,” said Boubacar, a long-time Morrisania resident.

Rahman has depended mostly on discount offers, incentives for referrals and word of mouth to encourage local residents to come through the door. Besides his family members, Rahman hired two local residents to distribute menus to passersby and do deliveries. One man, 43-year old Jeff Hargrove, is studying to become a food inspector eventually.

Rahman believes that one of the reasons his opening weeks have gone so well is the generosity from the people in the neighborhood. “People have been forthcoming whenever I have asked for help,” he said.

When asked why he chose the name “Hungry Bird”, he paused and said, “A bird has no job besides finding food. So, when humans get hungry, their characteristic changes to mimic a bird.”

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