Thursday, December 13, 2007
The nose-twitching smell of stale grease occupies the kitchen air. A creepy, high-pitched whine stirs from an industrial fan tucked into a corner. Outside the kitchen, next to the iconic painted window that has greeted drivers on Del Monte Avenue for 15 years, chairs and tables pile in loose stacks.
It doesn’t feel much like India Clay Oven’s tikka-and-Tandoori epicenter of days past.
“I was so used to coming here and seeing a living restaurant,” says a tired-looking Sukhdeep Dhillon, who co-owns India Clay with her husband Raj. “It’s so sad to look at it now.”
The events that have wearied the Dhillons began with a drip beneath the floor Sukhdeep stands on today, one likely emanating from the recently-removed walk-in freezer. When the building’s owners, Chan Associates, showed the downstairs unit to potential renter Monterey Salinas Transit, the water stains presented a sticking point.
Water proofing the floor, however, would require completely ripping it up to evaluate the amount of structural damage, according to John Kuehl, building official for city of Monterey.
Moreoever, in the time since India Clay opened, restaurant codes have changed. For the Dhillons to reopen their kitchen, a new grease treatment system and upgraded sprinkler system would need to be installed. Costs could well exceed $100,000.
Sukhdeep says they began to negotiate with the Chans about sharing costs. Here the stories start to differ, though both sides are careful to express genuine respect for the other.
“Me and my husband, we are ready to continue,” Sukhdeep says. “[We said], ‘Please give us a chance.’ Because of [client] response, we want to remain there. We said, ‘We will pay you back, even the expenses.’ Last week they hired an attorney, [who said] ‘Lease is terminated. We don’t want to keep it as a restaurant.’ ” Sukhdeep adds that it is her understanding that the Chans want to turn the space into apartments.
The attorney for Chan Associates, Phillip Daunt, says that’s not the case – and that his clients are simply waiting to see how much the floor renovations will cost before making any decisions about adding a grease trap and better fire prevention.
“My understanding is that the Dhillons are not in a financial position to pay for the build out that would be required,” Daunt says.
Meanwhile, the renovations the Dhillons anticipated taking one month to complete have yet to begin. Sukhdeep says she has received waves of phone calls.
“Everybody’s asking,” she says, noting that they are looking for a new location locally. “We can’t do anything – at least people can know [what happened]. We can go with our good name.”
Those callers can take heart that India Clay Oven hasn’t left the Old Monterey Marketplace, although their huge naan wraps now travel a little farther to get there, arriving from a leak-free kitchen in Watsonville.