ZEPHYRHILLS — There are twelve tables, three servers and one chef at Mayoor. The small Indian restaurant has been open since November, and its staff has a big goal: to introduce the community to Indian food and culture.
"The culture is very diverse, with influences from all around the world," said Jithin Sajan, 21.
Sajan, the restaurant owner's son, lives in Brandon, majors in mechanical engineering at the University of South Florida and helps his father manage Mayoor.
His father, Sajan Kallupalathinkal, 55, was born in Kerala, India, and moved to the United States in the 1980s, when his uncle got a job in New York. Kallupalathinkal, who mostly speaks the language Malayalam, is an electrician by trade, Sajan said, but created his own catering service in 1992. He moved his family to Florida in 1995 and has owned three catering services.
"He always wanted to open a restaurant," Sajan said.
The restaurant widens dining horizons for the community that surrounds it, Sajan said, because the next closest Indian restaurant is in Tampa.
Kallupalathinkal "wants to make everyone happy by cutting the drive to Tampa in order to get Indian food," Sajan said. And what customers can eat at Mayoor is different from what they might eat at nearby restaurants.
"Everybody seems to be stuck with fast food and country fried steak," he said. "I like country fried steak."
But Indian food is worth a try, he said.
It isn't always as spicy as patrons expect. People say "you'll tear up" if you eat it, Sajan said, but Indian food can be "way spicier than the food we serve here. If you want it spicy, we can make it spicy."
Lunch at Mayoor is always a buffet, which is different every day. At dinner, patrons can pick "special creations," which include Mayoora Special Naan, an Indian bread stuffed with dry fruits and coconuts, and Mayoor Hot Wings, chicken wings cooked in a clay oven and spiced with some Indian spices. There are also traditional dishes from which to choose.
The restaurant's most popular dish is Chicken Tikka Masala, Sajan said, and the menu also includes dishes with chick peas, fish, shrimp and lamb.
"(A fast food restaurant) isn't going to serve lamb anytime soon," Sajan said, adding that at Mayoor, "everything's made fresh, every day."
The food is "very authentic," said Sam Abrahani, who is from India originally and eats at Mayoor "at least three times a week." When he discovered the restaurant, he worried whether it "would succeed in a little town like Zephyrhills."
But, he said, "diversity is the word for the decade."
That, said Sajan's cousin Nevin Alummoottil, is what Mayoor really brings.
"I'm a first-generation American," said Alummoottil, 19, who works as a server. "Even though I'm from here, I have a big appreciation for being Indian" — an appreciation he hopes to foster for Mayoor's patrons.
"We have different traditions, a really rich culture," he said.
And Sajan added: "The food reflects that."
Arleen Spenceley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6235.