I have always gotten a little rankled when restaurants used the term homemade. But could it be that Tiffin Indian Food can actually lay claim to that fact?
I found a listing for Tiffin online at Urbanspoon, and I visited its rather elaborate website. But I have not visited its restaurant, because one does not exist.
After Memories of India announced that it would closed last Sunday after 15 years in the Bay Hill Plaza on Turkey Lake Road, I started looking for other Indian restaurants that might fill the void. Tiffin looked like a possible candidate and then some, with an extensive menu of Indian and Indochinese dishes.
When I first called to get the restaurant’s hours of operation, something I’ll do as a ploy just to see if a restaurant is open before making an unnecessary drive, I was told that it was strictly a takeout and delivery operation — there was no place for diners. Another time I called to ask about delivery. My address fell outside the map shown on the website, but a note there said to call to see if exceptions could be made. I did, but was told that it would be more than two hours before a delivery could occur.
Then I got curious. I entered the address of Tiffin Indian Foods, listed as 7175 Cadiz Boulevard, into a map search, and the result showed a residential townhouse. I looked for a license listing with the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation but found none.
The ownership of the Cadiz townhouse was listed as Arena Square LLC with a mailing address on Oldbridge Lane in Orlando. That is also a residence, though a much grander one judging from the street view photo. Kiritbhai and Asha Patel are listed as the owners, but I could find no contact information.
So I called Tiffin’s number again and spoke with the man who answered, who said he was not the owner. I verified that the address listed online was a residential townhouse. How, I asked, can you be operating a restaurant from that address? He replied that they were not like a restaurant, that they are a simple operation that deals mostly with delivery orders. I noted that the website was a rather elaborate one that works as an ordering shopping cart (it is quite detailed except for the omission of a running tally of the order). The man I was speaking to said that was because the owner was an “IT guy” who did the site as a sample website. “Would that be Mr. Patel?” I asked. “No, said the man. That’s not the owner’s name.”
I asked for the owner’s name and was told Asha, but the last name was not Patel. Charles, he said after some prodding, the owner’s name is Asha Charles. Of course Charles was not available and the man could not give me a number to call. I requested that Charles contact me; I did not receive a return call.
I also asked for the name of the person I was speaking to. He said his name as Sam. After more prodding and a long pause, he said his last name was John. Sam John. OK.
I asked if they had a license to operate a food service business. He said that they had plans to open a restaurant nearby very soon. Where? I asked, but he did not know. Then I asked what would have happened if I had sent an order that I wanted to pickup as takeout — would I have come to this residential neighborhood to fetch it?
Oh, no, he said. We contract with other restaurants to do the food. Which ones? Raga and Saffron, he replied.
“I’ve never heard of Tiffin,” said John Pereira, manager of Raga on Restaurant Row. Ashish Taujale, the general manager at Saffron, also on Sand Lake Road, said that he had heard the name before, but there was no arrangement with Tiffin to use Saffron’s commercially approved facilities as an outsourced kitchen.
And how long has this been going on? The About Us page on Tiffin’s website read “Cooking Since our humble beginnings in 2012 with a small space in orlando’s [sc] trendy Dr. Philips district, Tiffin’s growth has been inspired with the passion to cook and serve healthy, Indian-inspired takeout cuisine.” At least that’s how it read yesterday. Today that page is blank. And the front page of the website says the restaurant is Opening Soon. (The Urbanspoon page has also been changed to reflect that the restaurant is not yet open.)
(The front page also notes, below the headline “Best Indian Food in Orlando,” that “Tiffin Foods is not restaurant fare.” So at least there’s some honesty.
We’ve all eaten meals prepared in kitchens that wouldn’t pass a visit from the health inspector. Most of us do so daily in our own homes.
But commercial licensing and regular inspections for food service operations are necessary to protect the public. Even food trucks must be fully licensed. And skirting the fees — perhaps taxes? — that are paid by legitimate businesses is unfair to everyone. My calls apparently prompted the owners, whoever they are, to begin a process that should have been completed in 2012, when the website says Tiffin had its “humble beginnings.”
The word Tiffin, according to the coming-soon-restaurant’s website, means knowledge in Sanskrit. So now you know.