LEWISTON — Indian cuisine is a complex combination of spices, herbs and sauces that have a distinct and comforting aroma. That’s what’s missing from the Mother India of 2024. Not that the smells don’t waft from the kitchen anymore — to the contrary, you just can’t smell them until you get your food home.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Kumar family to close their dining room at 114 Lisbon St. four years ago, and it has not reopened. Mother India exists on takeout and catering, and the family said they are going full-tilt just keeping up with demand.

“I don’t think I would say that it impacted us negatively, in the aspect of we switched over our model from a full-service restaurant with dine-in and takeout and catering to just takeout and catering and things have been really well received,” General Manager Shivam Kumar said.

Mother India opened in April 2009 and is marking 15 years in business in Lewiston. It’s a small, family-run restaurant led by patriarch Ravi Kumar, the primary chef. His wife, Savita, handles orders and deals with customers, helps cook and handles whatever needs to be done.

Son Shivam Kumar helps run the business, holds a Master of Business Administration degree and sells commercial real estate.

The family is from Punjab, a state in northwestern India bordering Pakistan, the heart of the Sikh community. They immigrated to the United States in the late 1990s, arriving in New York City, where there is a large Indian community in Queens. Ravi Kumar’s brother opened Taste of India in Bangor and then helped get Mother India up and running in Lewiston.


“I’m feeling good,” Ravi Kumar said with a smile about hitting the 15-year mark. He likes his customers and they love his food.

“We are pretty happy here,” echoed Savita. “Yeah, very good. The people are so good.”

“I think overall things are looking good, no complaints,” Shivam chimed in. “It’s a very, I would say, welcoming community, once people end up liking your food that’s when it really starts (to gain) momentum.”

When Mother India first opened its doors, many diners in Lewiston-Auburn were simply not familiar with true Indian food. The Kumars agree it was a process of educating people on Punjabi cuisine, described as bold, even spicy and well balanced, offering something for everyone with a mix of vegetarian, vegan and meat dishes. And with more than 65 items on the menu, there is a lot to choose from. Customers can select their spice level to suit their taste.

There is no beef on the menu because cows are sacred to Hindus and about four in 10 Indians are vegetarian.

Lamb and chicken are mainstays on the menu at Mother India and there are shrimp and fish dishes as well, in a nod to the Bay of Bengal, famous for its diverse assortment of seafood.


Punjabi butter chicken is among the most famous dishes, with its rich tomato, ginger and garlic sauce and a full aromatic flavor. Another favorite is Tandoori chicken — marinated in yogurt with fresh ground spices and cooked in a tandoor oven, a clay-lined cylindrical oven found in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The Kumars said Indian food works better than most for takeout because the blend of spices and flavors taste better when reheated.

“Because we make things from scratch, and as the spices sit for a few hours, people say that the food is actually better,” Shivam Kumar pointed out.

Garlic naan is cooked on the edge of a ceramic Tandoor oven March 26 at Mother India on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

When the pandemic hit, nobody knew what would happen. Savita Kumar said for her the downtime was a huge relief because she suffered from a foot condition that made it painful to stand for long periods.

Shivam explained that the mandatory shutdown announced March 18, 2020, was a bit confusing. “We were anxious because we have that driving force of wanting to work. So, we were anxious to get back to it. And at that time, I was working full force at the coffee shop as well.”

He was referring to Break Coffee Shop, which he operated from April 2021 until December 2022 at 50 Lisbon St.


As soon as they were able to offer takeout food, they did, and business quickly became hectic. “Business really exploded because of the fact that we started becoming one of the few places that were actually open,” Kumar said.

Finding people to work was an uphill battle. The Kumars would hire, train people and then they would quit without notice. So, they decided to keep it in the family and keep it manageable, which is why they never reopened the dining room.

“We have a lot of people that are really disappointed that our buffet is not going on,” Shivam admitted. “But if we don’t have the bandwidth and the manpower, we don’t want to do it all sloppy.”

The Kumars watched businesses come and go on Lisbon Street. They don’t fault the city or the lack of parking or the perceived safety fears associated with the homeless presence.

“I would have to say that businesses, I feel, have a hard time sticking it out, specifically food businesses,” Shivam said. “Other businesses in the area, the ones that have gone out specifically, won’t be open when they say they’re open. And that’s a big thing if you’re not going to do what you say.”

Three to four years after opening, the Kumars admit business was not looking so good. “There’s a lot of sacrifice you need to make in order to survive on a street like this for your name to get recognized and people to know who we are and what we do,” the younger Kumar said.


Yet, they estimate that nearly half of the population in Lewiston-Auburn still doesn’t know what Mother India is and what kind of food they offer. That’s where the lunch menu comes in, with fewer items and reduced prices from the dinner menu.

Various curries cook March 26 at Mother India on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Mother India’s customers come mainly from the medical community and Bates College, but others come from Topsham and Brunswick, even though there are two Indian restaurants in Brunswick.

“We get a lot of customers that specifically want just food to go, because of the fact that they want to feed a family of 10 or 15,” Shivam said.

The Kumars said business is good and they are grateful for the patronage from the local community. Even though he is close to retirement age, Ravi has no interest in retiring. He gets up at 5 a.m. and heads to the gym every day.

“My husband is the most hardworking man I ever see,” Savita said. “He works more than 12 hours (a day).”

The message from the Kumars is a simple one: “I want to give you a message to everybody. We are grateful for everyone that’s giving us a business and we really appreciate it… we love that forever,” Savita said.

It’s a message echoed by Shivam: “We’re really grateful and appreciative.”

Mother India is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and 4:30 to 8 p.m. for dinner orders. Delivery is handled through DoorDash.com. Pickup for orders is on the side of the building to the right.

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