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Indian couple happy to call Woodinville home

Photo by Deborah Stone
Satwant Kaur and Bir Singh outside their Indian Palace in Woodinville

Woodinville is home to numerous families who hail from various parts of the globe. How and why they eventually ended up here is often a subject of curiosity.

One such couple, Bir Singh and his wife Satwant Kaur, made separate journeys from India to the U.S. a number of years ago. Both grew up in the northern part of India, in Punjab, but never met until they came to the Seattle area.

Singh’s story begins in 1986, when after a two-year stint as a chef in Paris, he moved to America to begin a new life.

“I viewed the U.S. as the land of opportunity and I decided to try my luck,” explains Singh. “I had friends in Seattle and I had heard it was a nice place, so I came straight here.”

For the first few years, he worked as a chef at a local Indian restaurant, Mogul Palace, as well as at Marie Callender’s in Bellevue, while continuing his culinary education at a nearby technical college.

“I thought it would be a good idea for me to learn how to cook American food since I was living here now,” adds Singh.

While he worked and studied, the young man dreamt of having his own restaurant.

Eventually, his dream became a reality and he opened Indian Palace in North Seattle. He ran the place successfully for eight years.

One day, a woman came in to eat dinner. It was Satwant Kaur. She was visiting her sister in Bellevue, who took her to Singh’s establishment for some home cooked Indian food.

It was Kaur’s first trip to the U.S. Prior to that, she had been living in Singapore, working in the aviation industry. Singh and Kaur hit it off and the rest, shall we say, is history.

In 2000, the couple closed up shop in North Seattle, moved to Woodinville and opened another Indian Palace on 175th Street.

The pair works together to manage and operate the restaurant (and adjoining bar), which serves both Indian and American food.

“We chose Woodinville because we thought it was a good place to raise our kids and also because there weren’t any other Indian restaurants in the town,” says Singh. “This was important because I had wanted to find a unique location for the business.”

Initially, it was a tough go for the couple. Many people were unfamiliar with Indian food and unwilling to try it, so business was slow. Then 9/11 happened and the situation worsened.

“Some people marked us wrong,” explains Kaur. “They called us names and accused of being like the terrorists. They didn’t understand who we were and didn’t try to find out. It was a difficult time for us and our children, who were also affected by comments made from other kids at their school. And business at the restaurant suffered.”

Gradually, the situation improved, but it was a slow process. “I think people were suspicious of us and the food,” comments Singh. “Now, however, people know us and I also think they are more interested in trying Indian food because it’s become more popular,” comments Singh.

He continues to explain that the type of food served at his restaurant is from the northern part of India.

He adds, “Actually, most of the Indian restaurants in the U.S. offer this kind of food. It has the traditional spices, but it’s not spicy hot.”

Kaur chimes in, “The food is all natural and it’s very healthy, too. The spices we use are good for the body. And we have a large variety of dishes to appeal to all palates.”

The couple put in long hours at the restaurant doing everything from designing the menus and cooking to waiting and bussing tables. Their focus is on ensuring that customers receive great food and attentive, service within an atmosphere of warm hospitality.

“You could say we’re married to the business,” says Singh, “but I think most people who own their own restaurants are the same. To be successful, this is what you have to do.”

When they’re not working, the couple spends time with their two children and continues to expose them to Indian culture and its practices. They celebrate Indian festivals, watch Indian movies, attend temple and teach them Punjabi, their native language. And every few years, they return to India for a visit.

“Our kids were both born in the U.S. and they are very American,” comments Kaur, “but we feel it’s important that they understand and learn about their cultural background.”

The couple is happy to be here and feels established in Woodinville. “We love American people,” adds Singh, “and we do our best to support the Woodinville community. It is our home. We just hope that the economy gets better and that things improve for everyone.”