TRUCKEE, Calif. — Out with the fast and in with the new. Spice, an Indian-inspired restaurant will open in Truckee soon in the old location of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Spice owners Christa Finn and Dean Schaecher had been looking for a place to open a restaurant, and when the fast food chain left due to lack of business, they jumped on the idea.
“We kicked the Colonel to the curb,” Dean said with a laugh.
Dean and Christa have teamed up with longtime friend Carl Simoneau to cook up an idea long in the making. Ten years of brainstorming over dinner and bottles of wine, they said, resulted in the conclusion that options were limited and Truckee needed something new, affordable and different.
“We started complaining about the lack of choice,” Dean said.
Choice won’t be a problem at Spice. The counter service-style restaurant will serve four different curries, lamb vindaloo, butter chicken and “sandwiches” on a variety of breads, as well as daily specials. Dean said he’s most looking forward to the sweet potato cake on roti bread while Christa anticipates the chickpea-based curry that Carl has perfected.
Carl’s culinary background is in classical French cuisine, but a trip to India in 2007 influenced his tastes.
The chef trekked through parts of the Himalayas and returned to Truckee with elephant rides fresh in his mind and spices still hot on his tongue. As Carl explored Indian cuisine and attempted to recreate the flavors of the quick yet complex street food he enjoyed during his travels, he shared his creations with Dean and Christa. The trio knew they were on to something spicy.
“Carl went to India and the spice invaded his life,” Dean said with a laugh.
In his new endeavor, Carl aims to capture the authenticity of the street food he fell in love with in India.
“It’s the ‘order it in your hand and put it in your mouth’ style,” he said.
The “sandwiches” are made from five different breads made in house by Carl such as roti, a vegan bread; dosa, a gluten-free option; and, of course, naan.
“Indian (food) was always more fun and intriguing because it’s not around,” Carl said. “The flavors are so different, it’s a real challenge.” Carl said he doesn’t aim to specifically recreate the tastes of the land of spice, but instead will follow his palette.
EXPLORING TASTES AND EDUCATING EATERS
The trio team at Spice has brought some creatures along for the ride. To introduce daily specials as well as educate eaters about the history of the spice trade, Christa, Dean and Carl created Curry and Freshie. The concept of the creatures — Curry the elephant and Freshie the snail — is traveling companions that explore the world and learn about its tastes along the way.
“Where did all the spices from India go? That’s the journey of Curry and Freshie,” Dean explained.
Freshie the snail represents Carl’s background in French cuisine and the restaurant’s commitment to slow food and fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. Curry the elephant stands for India and the origin of spice.
“The curry itself was Indian and it traveled as Buddhist monks traveled. As they ran out, they created their own,” Carl explained.
Caribbean spices such as jerk, for example, will appear on the specials menu when the character pair visits Jamaica and Havana.
Carl plans to explore Thai, Moroccan, Chinese, and even Russian tastes too. Special events such as the Olympics, Chinese New Year and the World Cup will take Freshie and Curry to different parts of the world where they will explore cuisine.
“Through the website, Facebook and the blog of Curry and Freshie we will help explain what we’re doing here,” Christa said.
Upcoming winter specials include Vietnamese pho and Russian borscht.
EXCITED TO GET STARTED
Dean, Christa and Carl had hoped to open Spice’s doors earlier this month, but minor setbacks in the transition of kitchens pushed back their original open date.
“If people wanted a crash course in what not to eat they could’ve helped us clean the kitchen,” Dean said of the grease remnants at KFC. “It’ll be a much healthier turn for the building.”
To open Spice, Dean and Christa added a prep sink (because no vegetables are used, there wasn’t a need for KFC to have one) and a dishwasher (the fast food chain uses primarily disposable containers).
Small bumps along the way, like replacing the building’s dated water heater, set Spice back a couple weeks, but the owners remained enthusiastic.
“No one is more excited than us,” Dean said.
A grand opening is scheduled for Nov. 29, barring any more setbacks, according to the restaurant’s most recent Facebook update on Thursday. A soft opening still is tentatively scheduled for this weekend.
With all the finishing touches, Carl had one thing on his mind: “I can’t wait to start cooking!” he said.
With a fast food chain closing and a local, sustainable restaurant filling its place, Spice owners are hopeful and say it’s a move in the right direction for the community.
“Little by little the fast food chains are dissolving in Truckee,” Carl said. “We’re ahead of the trends.”
Jenny Luna is a freelance reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Sierra Sun newspapers. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.