AUBURN — Other restaurants have come and gone in the high-profile spot downtown, but two Nepalese businessmen are introducing food that corner hasn’t seen yet.
Roasted chicken mandhi. Samak mali. Baked tufah.
And, they’re bringing belly dancers.
“I love to get this place going, I think people here will like it,” Nabin Naral said a day before Friday’s soft opening at Narals Experience Arabia.
The restaurant's specialty: A mix of Arab, Greek and Western cuisine.
Naral and Pramod Shrestha grew up together in Nepal. Shrestha lives in Portland. The younger Naral lives in Singapore where he’s opened several restaurants with a similar menu.
After an expansion opportunity in the states fell through last summer, Naral paid a visit to Shrestha.
“He said, ‘Why not do it in Maine?’” Naral said. “I said, ‘Why not?’ Because of him, I came here.”
Shrestha, who has 10 years of restaurant experience, said, “I saw what he does in Singapore and I really loved it.”
The space at 34 Court St. was the first they looked at. The size and location were a good fit, and they’ve been renovating since November.
“New lighting, new rugs, setting up the kitchen my style,” Naral said.
He’d like to bring one of his chefs over from Singapore. For now, he’s teaching staff here his recipes. They’ve hired 15 people to start the restaurant.
With seating in one room for 90 and a second space for a gift shop and entertainment, Naral said he’d like to create a family-friendly atmosphere. The restaurant will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week, open from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, belly dancers will walk around the tables, performing, from 7 to 9 p.m. A DJ takes over after that.
“A stage we do not need,” Naral said. “If people want to dance, we can move some tables.”
The corner of Main and Court streets has been home to No Tomatoes, Midnight Blues, Uncle Troy's, Lavish Nightclub and, most recently, O'Shea's, but still, the business partners are optimistic. Naral said they want to stand out for customer service and touches in the kitchen like spices from overseas and cooking in olive oil.
They plan a daily $7.90 lunch special that includes the house soup and dessert with main courses like Falafel (pita stuffed with vegetables and tahina sauce), Dajaj Mahammar (Moroccan roasted chicken) and lamb stew.
Naral said he’ll stay local for five to six months then use Singapore as a home base to scout more restaurant locations in Indonesia and Australia.
“Every few months, I’ll be here. I want to make sure everything is all right, people are happy,” Naral said. But, he might not be so anxious to return in winter. “I’m freezing now.”