Jatt Mand’s restauranteur journey has spanned two continents, but it always comes back to his family’s kitchen.
“I believe food is art,” Mand said. “There’s so much culture in it.”
His family’s rich Indian heritage was the foundation of their meals and gave Mand a deep appreciation for unique flavors and ingredients even when he was very small. Now, after years of helping his family run the popular India Palace restaurant chain, Mand is utilizing his culinary experiences to offer something new to the Mankato area: King Restaurant, a high-end fusion eatery opening in Mankato later this month.
A flavorful journey
Mand was born in London but moved to Indianapolis only months later when his father, Tirlochn, decided to help in his brother’s restaurant, the India Palace, in 1996. The restaurant lifestyle suited Mand’s parents, and when Mand was six years old, they moved again, this time to Eden Prairie, Minn., to open a restaurant also called the India Palace.
To this day, Mand can’t remember a time when he wasn’t running in and out of a restaurant kitchen. His first part-time after-school job was in the India Palace, where he and his younger brother served first as busboys, then as waiters. When he was a teenager, his father decided that it was time for the young Mand to learn to cook and carefully coached his technique. Mand took to the skill immediately.
I believe food is art. There’s so much culture in it.Jatt Mand
“It’s just fun,” he said, talking about feeling as though he was “in the zone” whenever he stood over a stove or peered into an oven.
Several years into their business, the Mand family began attracting Mankatoans who were in the cities for work or leisure. They raved about the India Palace and suggested opening a similar restaurant in southern Minnesota, since the area was lacking in authentic Indian cuisine.
The idea appealed strongly to Mand.
“I was old enough to get into the business, and I really wanted to do my own thing,” Mand said.
Convincing his dad took some effort, but finally Mand won out and arrived in Mankato to open a third India Palace. The venture met with slow and steady success. Mand and his family brought samosas, curry, vindaloo, tikka masala and Mand’s personal favorite, kabobs, to an appreciative community.
Trying something new
Eventually, Mand was ready to think big again and took inspiration from his own culinary interests—including his favorite food, pizza—to open the Kato Pizzeria in August 2019. He homed it near other bars and pubs on Front Street and worked with his team to develop a menu that featured classic toppings as well as vegan options and specialty pies.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” said Mand, adding that he had expected pizza to be perhaps a little less of a challenge than traditional Indian food. “It’s still something you’ve really got to learn and get right. It’s been a great experience.”
For Mand, culinary experimentation is a hands-on process. He is typically in a restaurant kitchen five or six days a week, especially at the India Palace, preparing customer meals and teaching new staff. His partners, younger brother Pretpal and brother-in-law Inderjit Singh, also work alongside him many days, and his father helps with the cooking as well.
It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s still something you’ve really got to learn and get right.Jatt Mand
The Mand family’s next venture was met with enthusiasm but faced far more difficulties than the preceding restaurants. The Kato Burger Pit opened its doors in January 2020, just before the onslaught of COVID-19 closed restaurants for weeks on end.
“It wasn’t a great time to open, but no one really saw what was going to happen,” Mand said. “It’s been one hurdle after another. It’s been hard, but you have to go with the flow; you can’t just sit here and complain. You’ve got to get to work and get your stuff done.”
A personal dream
Getting to work is exactly what Mand did during the months of shutdown, brainstorming ways to avert a potential catastrophe. Around the time that businesses began to reopen, he had a plan for rehabilitating the suffering Kato Burger Pit, and maybe realizing a personal dream or two while he was at it. His plan? Open a completely new restaurant that is unlike anything Mankato has yet seen.
“What if we had a cool fusion restaurant?” Mand said he asked himself. Looking around the city, he realized that while casual-dining-style joints were plentiful, atmospheric, date-night-style restaurants were not. He admired destinations like Number Four and Olives with their higher-end feel, and the idea to open King Restaurant was born.
“I have always loved the name and always dreamed of opening a restaurant with that name!” said Mand.
He and his crew chose to completely revamp the Kato Burger Pit to create a new restaurant with a classy, dark ambiance and an open kitchen concept that would be ideal for a special night out. They also set to work creating a huge restaurant that would offer more modern-style Indian food as well as specialty pizzas, desserts and more.
“We’re trying to incorporate everything we’ve learned into one place and try to do something super elegant,” Mand said. “We try to put something in [the menu] for everyone.”
Although Mand’s goal is to create a one-of-a-kind, sophisticated dining experience, he said he also wants to design it to attract everyone from couples to celebrations to family outings.
There’s a lot of people that might [run a restaurant] for just the money, but you need to have some sort of passion for it to be in it. You’ve got to give people something you have put your heart into.Jatt Mand
“I think it will be a great place for kids, adults, people who want to try something new,” he said. “Everyone is welcome.”
In keeping with his theme of inclusiveness, Mand plans to keep the building’s drive thru functioning. While the sit-down restaurant will serve up a fine-dining experience, the back of the building will be dedicated to flipping burgers and other fast favorites, complete with a totally separate menu.
“It’s just so convenient,” Mand said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever worked a drive thru, and it’s so easy for people to go to a drive thru.”
The India Palace and Kato Pizzeria community has been supportive and excited for the new restaurant. The King Restaurant Facebook page, decorated with a logo depicting a lion holding a crown, receives daily messages asking for updates. At the soft opening, currently scheduled for Nov. 27, Mand said that he hopes to reward the support with stellar, lovingly crafted eats.
“There’s a lot of people that might [run a restaurant] for just the money, but you need to have some sort of passion for it to be in it,” he said. “You’ve got to give people something you have put your heart into.”