Meatless Mondays Make for Mad Guests at Pondicheri

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Photo by Troy Fields
Pondicheri's counter: the site of many a customer temper tantrum this past Monday.
Houston restaurants such as Backstreet Cafe have long offered Meatless Mondays, popular with vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike who enjoy eating meat-free meals that emphasize fresh, seasonal produce.

More than 30 percent of Indians, meanwhile, identify as vegetarian. There is a national system in place there to identify which foods are vegetarian. In many areas of the country -- from north to south -- vegetarian cuisine is preferred by both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike simply because of the region's long history of cooking vegetable-based meals.

Neither of these facts swayed the upset customers who came to Pondicheri last Monday and found that the Indian restaurant had switched to a Meatless Monday concept.

"Approximately 50 people turned around and left when they heard we were not serving meat," said Pondicheri chef and owner Anita Jaisinghani. "Some yelled at the counter server -- who happened to be my son valiantly trying to defend his mother. One demanded a chicken frankie and told my son, 'I know you have chicken back there, just pack one up for me and I won't tell anyone.'"

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
A typical Indian breakfast: uppma, which is delicious and filling and...contains no meat.
"One threw the menu on the counter and stomped out," Jaisinghani continued. "Another one emailed us demanding an explanation for this 'baffling behavior.'" Jaisinghani was baffled herself.

After all, it's not as if Meatless Mondays nor vegetarian-based Indian food are unprecedented. And the lack of chicken on a menu -- even when it's regularly there, and even if you have your mouth set for it -- is certainly never grounds for a full-blown, adult-size temper tantrum.

The Meatless Monday at Pondicheri was an experiment, headed up by Jaisinghani, that she calls "a small and simple attempt to lessen our impact on the environment." The chef has been an advocate of more mindful meat-eating ever since reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. The move was also partly inspired by her own childhood in India, where her mother encouraged the family to go meatless one day a week. "It was considered a 'cleansing' of sorts, I think," she says, both "physical and spiritual."

"We got all geared up, cooked some vegetarian specials, printed whole new menus, et cetera," she said. Throughout the day, Jaisinghani says, a few customers did appreciate the new menu and some, she reports, "came in just to support it."

Those supporters, however, were far outweighed by angry customers demanding their chicken frankies. "I am surprised," she said of the reactions, "and a little bit amused and saddened. Are people this addicted to their 'protein'?"

"I've lived in Texas for more than 20 years," says Jaisinghani, who also owns and runs the popular Indika, which has plenty of vegetarian specials of its own. "While I always knew [Texans] were meat eaters, I never realized the extent of it!"

Jaisinghani remains "a little nervous" but undeterred, and wishes to keep the Meatless Mondays going at Pondicheri in hopes that the weekly vegetarian menus will find their own fans.

"I'm going back to my roots in a lot of things I do these days, and I have decided to stick to my guns and keep doing it."



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Location Info

Pondicheri

2800 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
64 comments
megbradley
megbradley

I eat meat on average once a week, I often go weeks without eating meat; I'm not a vegetarian, I just really love vegetables and fruits. 

Last monday, my boyfriend wanted to go out for lunch, and I persuaded him to try Indika, which was closed, so we headed to Pondicheri after looking up the menu online. There was NO MENTION of meatless mondays on the menu, or we wouldn't have bothered. We saw the sign on the door and didn't bother to go in. 

I think the approach that Backstreet Cafe takes (not strong arming the customers into being meatless on one particular day but instead offering an enhanced vegetarian menu) makes a lot more sense. 

For me, it is not her initiative but her response that is the biggest issue. She assumes that because a customer wants meat on a given day (in this case, monday) that they are "protein addicted" and can't go one day without meat. It's judgmental and pretentious. 

Mattjamesreynolds
Mattjamesreynolds

Hi Anita!! A group of us are planning to visit you on Meatless Monday this 1/16. I am hoping you have Bainghan Bartha on the menu but am sure there will be lots of fresh yummy selections.

Rob Wane
Rob Wane

Think we should adapt and be more sensitiveabout certain issues about the reason behind every rules and regulations theyare making, what matter is to offer the best meal they have.Rob,Indian restaurant Sandbach

Sophie
Sophie

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jIM
jIM

I think most posters are missing the point.  Pondicheri has a reputation for letting customers order items with meat.  If you surprise them like this, don't expect all of them to be happy (although that doesn't condone rude behavior on their part).

jason
jason

Houston is so goddamn disappointing sometimes.

Corey
Corey

Hmm let's say I wanted vegetarian Indian food on a Monday, simple two word response.. Bombay sweets.  If I wanted meat based dishes I'd be at Korma sutra or Bombay brasserie; doesn't really offer a choice when you force your agenda down your paying customers throats, though not necessarily a bad idea Houston is very meat and potatoes. Speaking of now craving vindaloo or rogan josh, thanks...

josh
josh

Smart business or not, laughing at spoiled petulant idiots must be fun.

Stomping out and emailing over a chefs perogative? Kill yourself you self important moron.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Eh, screw those cry baby bastards. They could probably do with eating less meat anyway.

ec
ec

When a restaurant serves Americanized food, the response should be pretty much expected. 

sunny bogden
sunny bogden

"I find this really baffling and was curious your reasoning behind this. If I want to not eat meat, I will choose to order something meatless. However, I feel that if I want to order a chicken sandwich I shoudln't be refused."

If you want to eat meat, don't go to Pondicheri... on MEATLESS MONDAYS. It's the same choice you make when you choose not to go to a vegetarian restaurant every other time you want to eat meat. I can certainly understand being frustrated or surprised if you didn't know about the change, but there are several other restaurants in the same shopping center. If you were still dead set on Indian food there's Queen Vic right up the road. If you were so dead set on Pondicheri, then you might give the vegetarian options a go.

The above sort of logic is baffling. The person expects Pondicheri to respect their choice to eat meat but doesn't respect the establishment's choice to not serve meat one day out of a week.

Will
Will

I will have to go on Monday in a show of support. Yes, it may cut my life short, it may be politically incorrect, but I am unashamedly a meat eater. I tend to find vegetarian fare to be dull. 

On the other hand, vegetarian Indian cuisine is exquisite. Perhaps if I lived in India, I might be a vegetarian. Expecting to have meat, my first meal at Pondicheri ended up being a sampler of various vegetarian dishes. I remember one of the cauliflower dishes as one of the best things I have eaten in all of 2011. Normally, I don't like cauliflower. 

So for all the meat eaters out there, try to have an open mind on this one.

Jalapeno
Jalapeno

This completely baffles me.  Why not offer more creative veg dishes on Mondays while keeping popular meat dishes on the menu?  And while the behavior of (some) of the customers was undoubtedly boorish, that doesn't reflect on the many more who politely left in search of what they came for.  The menu should remain as diverse as its admirers.  

Chelsea Ellen
Chelsea Ellen

I personally called Pondicheri to let them know what a great idea I think this is. Sometimes, yes, restaurants do need to satisfy their customers, but maybe customers who rant and rave and throw tantrums over the lack of meat are not the kind of customers Pondicheri is necessarily looking to attract. 

Indian cuisine, as the article states, is usually vegetarian, and it's not out of the question for Pondicheri to cater to that cultural value, considering it is, well, Indian food. Also, Pondicheri also offers gluten-free items, which their menu states above available dishes, so it would seem like a restaurant that enjoys catering to people who enjoy a variety of dietary options, and not simply the American Staple of Meat.

It's a business, and the owner should be the one deciding how to run it—they're obviously successful, so why not inject some of their own values into something that reflects their efforts? If they want to eschew meat entrees once a week, reduce their environmental impact, and show a minority, though still a large amount, group of eaters, then they should be allowed to that without dealing with hissy fits thrown by well-to-do, entitled consumers.

I applaud Pondicheri for their choice, and will be eating there even more often from now on.

mike
mike

How are people like this able to lead "normal" lives????  HOW????

Kyle
Kyle

Buncha savages in this town.-Randal Graves

Ed T.
Ed T.

Wow. Some customers are such assholes...

Staceymoves
Staceymoves

i think it's a wonderful offering and guests should be grateful for the beautiful food provided and the money in their pocket to buy it.  i hear vegetables are good for balancing blood sugar, which, when it's low, can result in mood swings...

Lauren
Lauren

This sounds like the normal growing pains that accompany a change in policy. Sure, the first time out, people don't know what's up and they're pissed. Over time, people who only want meat-centric meals from Pondicheri will know to avoid the place on Mondays. But people who are vegetarian or interested in vegetarian food will have an extra incentive to stop in on a typically low-volume day of the week. I'm assuming that the restaurant is offering more extensive veggie offerings on Mondays than its normal menu, and for that I would definitely venture out early in the week, when I normally make food at home. The idea that a restaurant can't sustain itself going veggie one night a week doesn't hold up for me, given that several all-veggie restaurants thrive in Houston. It's all about getting the message out.

Anonymous
Anonymous

You mean I can't get the vegan biryani on a Thursday????  UGGGGGHHHHH

Matthew
Matthew

clearly some of the customers' reactions were overboard. that said, good for her if she can make it by turning off 50 paying customers in one day. i suspect that's not the case. i reckon most people will just continue as if they are closed on mondays. i'm not against vegetarian dishes, but why go when the full menu isn't available?

Allison
Allison

I've totally been craving one specific meal from one specific restaurant before and it happened that I got there and it was no longer on the menu. If that happens I talk to the server, mention that I don't see [X] on the menu anymore and ask if they still make it. Then, one of three things happens: 1) I'm told they can still make it for me and I tip extra for the courtesy, 2) I'm told they can't make it and I order something else that is on the menu, 3) I'm told they can't make it and I say that sucks, I was craving [X] and I thank them and walk out the door and go somewhere else that has [X]. In none of those cases does it occur to me to throw a freaking hissy fit about it.

rgwalt
rgwalt

Another way this could have been handled was to make the decision a month or two ago, and start informing customers at the restaurant and broadcasting the information through all available media channels.  If you tell people that you are going to do something ahead of time, they won't make their evening plans around picking up a chicken frankie (whatever that is). Put yourself in the shoes of the angry and baffled customers, who love the food from this restaurant and had their hearts set on eating a dinner, with meat, that night.  Maybe they had been looking forward to this meal all day.  Maybe they had been planning to go that Monday night for a whole week.  Maybe they had a long, crappy day at work, no time or energy to cook dinner, and Pondichere was the restaurant that two grumpy spouses finally decided on after 20 minutes of "How about this place?" "No... I don't feel like Mexican".  This Meatless Monday experiment could have led to a divorce...

Hugh Ramsey
Hugh Ramsey

Surprising that Pondicheri, of all places, would have this much pushback.

Open = goodClosed = bad

Tracy Carlson
Tracy Carlson

I totally honor Anita's decision and I will absolutely be visiting Pondicheri on Mondays! 

SuperbHerb
SuperbHerb

Successful cookie-cutter chain restaurants are built on one thing: no surprises.  Successful independent businesses are built on independence.

Bayou619
Bayou619

You can't spring things like this on meat eaters. 2 months warning would suffice. Just remember you can't please everyone. Some still would of moaned and groaned.

Nicky
Nicky

No one is going to die from not having meat at one meal. 

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

Fair enough.  I've never said I minded vegetarian dishes (although new "WONDERFUL vegan fried avocado tacos were lackluster at best) and I've always loved broccoli, cauliflower, or any cabbage variation (look it up.)  I love restaurants showing me new things.  But if I traveled 5-10 miles to get my office/family an order, or if I said "we have to go to this place for their "whatever" and they not only say they don't have it (when they do), but refuse to even serve it?   This is just bad business.  Period.

Doc Ricky
Doc Ricky

What baffles me is why so many people (customers?) think that they have a say in how Anita chooses to run Pondicheri. She calls the shots. How the menu should or should not be is hers to decide.

Matthew
Matthew

"Indian cuisine, as the article states, is usually vegetarian, and it's not out of the question for Pondicheri to cater to that cultural value, considering it is, well, Indian food."

frequently vegetarian, not usually vegetarian. 70% of the population is NOT vegetarian according to Katharine's numbers.

Wyatt
Wyatt

To try something new from a chef you really like? I'm not a vegetarian, and I would have stuck around.

Ed T.
Ed T.

Only if it's consensual, please.

Ray
Ray

Couldn't be said any better...

Ed T.
Ed T.

On a related note: I was really bummed when I found out that Xuco Xicana was not serving the Felix queso. However, when I finally paid XX a visit, I discovered that I didn't miss it at all - the queso that they are serving there now is absolutely fantabulous!

So, maybe keeping an open mind (and one's temper) is a better course, eh?

Steph Lopez
Steph Lopez

Actually, Pondicheri posted on their front chalkboard for several weeks prior to the new year that they would be having "meatless Mondays" starting in January. 

Beyond that, when I came for breakfast in December, there were beautifully written notes on each table that notified guests about the meatless Monday initiative and elaborated on their intent behind it (sustainability and so forth). 

GO MEATLESS MONDAYS!! WHOO!

Walter
Walter

People like that deserve to be divorced. Forever alone.

Albert Nurick
Albert Nurick

Agreed.  But apparently that's the customer base at West Ave.

wheresthehospitalbar
wheresthehospitalbar

Me too! More power to them! I also love their 2nd Saturday concept of donating to a cause.

Allison
Allison

You need 2 months warning to not eat meat for one meal?

Albert Nurick
Albert Nurick

Of course it's Anita's decision how she runs her restaurant, but very few businesses succeed by ignoring customer feedback.  She's gotten her feedback - now it's up to her to interpret what it means, and determine what changes to make, if any.

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

Lol.  They do have a say with their wallets.  We will see how long this idea sticks.

Allison
Allison

You're right on about the numbers... but not being vegetarian doesn't mean you can't eat vegetarian dishes. Plus if a country or area is that heavily vegetarian, it wouldn't suprise me if another large chunk of the population is mostly, though not entirely, veggie. 

H_e_x
H_e_x

Try something new? What do you think this is, communist Russia? You can pry the meat from our cold, clogged arteries.

Cc
Cc

Well if they were warned beforehand they would hopefully have known to not show up to pondicheri on Monday if they wanted chicken. bad behavior by grownups, though.

I'll try to make it by on a Monday to show support.

Bayou619
Bayou619

Houston is one of those cities that people feel they are entitled to the highest degree. no matter how much notice you give folks, they still would of moaned and groaned. Lord help them if you throw these folks off of their routines. 

Wyatt
Wyatt

That goes beyond first-world problems into first-world entitlement

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