The stretch of Peachtree Road that leads from Brookhaven to Chamblee is one I pass through often. It takes me past Old Brick Pit BBQ. The place looks like a barn. It advertises Brunswick stew. I need to get in there, I remind myself every time I drive by.
There wasn’t time to stop. Not that day. I sped north.
When did it switch from Rose of India? Restaurants turn over so frequently. I can’t keep up.
I pulled into the empty parking lot. The door was locked. It wasn’t quite lunchtime. I snapped a few photos and sent them to a colleague at The AJC. Could she dig around and see what she could find?
“Just talked to the owner,” she wrote back later. “He’s 22 years old and is going to school full time to become a physician assistant, came to ATL when he was 5 from Bangladesh.”
Bangladeshi restaurants are uncommon. So are 22-year-old restaurateurs.
A few days later, Amit Shapta greeted me at the door. He wore an Atlanta United jersey. He liked soccer a lot, he said. Used to play when he was a kid. Not now, though. Between finishing up his undergraduate studies as a biology major at Kennesaw State University and opening the restaurant, he was far too busy.
While Shapta has three employees, he pretty much handles the entire front of the house. He runs water, takes orders, serves food, buses tables and rings up the register.
The 38-seat restaurant would be opening in 30 minutes. At that point we’d have no time for chit-chat, so I cut to the chase: What possessed him, at his young age, to open a restaurant?
“I’m hoping to pay off physician assistant school.”
Shapta will enter the physician assistant program at Emory University in the fall of 2019. As part of the admissions requirement, he’ll need to log a certain amount of volunteer and direct patient care hours, which he’ll start clocking upon graduating from KSU in December.
“At this age, you have to think three to five years in advance. If you don’t plan … ” He paused to shape his next thought. “I wanted to set myself on a path.”
After graduating from Chamblee High School in 2013, Shapta attended Mercer University, but transferred to KSU when he realized he could get a high-quality education there for less money. Actually, he’s on a full ride, so he will walk away with his degree debt-free.
He is the first person in his family to go to college.
His decision to be a physician assistant isn’t without reflection either. Initially, he wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, he told me, but after talking with family and friends, he realized that medical school wasn’t the best route for the life he envisioned: “A family, to live comfortably, to be there while my kids grow up.”
Shapta is industrious, hardworking, aspirational. That might be in his blood.
He and his family moved to Atlanta in 1999. That was after a time of separation from his father, Shajon Miah, who moved to London, leaving Shapta and his mother, Julia Nahar, behind in their native city of Sylhet in northeastern Bangladesh.
Why the move?
“To find a better opportunity for us,” Shapta replied.
His father knew how to cook, so that’s what he did in London. Later, he moved to California and opened an Indian restaurant in Hollywood with a business partner.
Then Miah came to Atlanta. “He decided this city was the perfect place to settle down,” Shapta said. So 5-year-old Shapta and his mother packed their bags and came to America.
Miah worked as a chef in a few Indian restaurants in greater Atlanta before opening two of his own: Moxsha Kitchen in Duluth and Subras Indian Grill in Marietta. The latter closed earlier this year.
What if Ruchi fails, I asked?
“It’s been accepted. I’ve done my research. The first two to three businesses are 95 percent failure. I went ahead because my dad has experience. He can be a mentor and help me.”
His father, Shapta said, is the person training cooks at Ruchi.
Indian mainstays — tikkas, pakoras, daals, aloos, tandoori-style chicken and seafood, aromatic biriyanis, flat breads — dominate the Ruchi menu, but there are some Bengali specialties. As Shapta explained, the two are very similar. But there are certain ingredients more common to Bangladeshi kitchens — such as pungent mustard oil used to cook achaar, a tangy dish of pickled fruits and vegetables. Listed as No. 36 on the Ruchi menu, it is chunky, tomatoey and almost stewlike. It also makes for a filling entree since it gets studded with chunks of protein — chicken, lamb, goat, tilapia, salmon or shrimp. (Go for goat.)
Shapta also considers Bangladeshi food spicier than its Indian neighbor. We chatted about the naga morich pepper, a small, wrinkly, thin-skinned pepper that holds big heat. He brought out a couple of fresh ones ripened to orange and yellow hues, careful to hold them by the stem, lest the oils touch his skin and burn it. The pepper makes an appearance in menu item No. 38, simply called Naga Morich. The dish is quite similar to the achaar, but not one for those who can’t stand the heat.
“Naga is the Bangladeshi pepper. It’s the most spicy pepper you will ever try,” he said proudly.
Pride in his heritage is, in fact, why Shapta opted to include Bangladeshi food on his menu and to give the place a Bengali name, one that means “tasteful.”
“I gotta represent my own country and my own food,” said Shapta, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen at age 17. “I grew up eating Bangladeshi food. I love a burger, wings, but I missed my mom’s food in college. I didn’t appreciate this type of food until I was away from it.”
Besides relying on his dad’s years of experience in the restaurant industry for his venture, Shapta tapped his cousin, former manager for Masti Indian Street Eats in Decatur, for marketing advice. He spoke to the operators of Rose of India to learn about their sales history. Takeout was a heavy percentage of income, so Shapta is working to set up UberEats and other delivery services.
As for selecting 4847 Peachtree Road as the home for his restaurant, well, that was largely based on his own acquired knowledge. When his family first arrived in Atlanta, they lived near Drew Valley Road in what is now the city of Brookhaven. “Brookhaven is already a great place. It’s sophisticated. And Chamblee is growing really fast,” Shapta said.
Ruchi opened on Labor Day. “It’s been pretty good for three weeks of business,” he said, adding, “It is so stressful. I work seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Keeping up with my schoolwork is even more of a challenge.”
Shapta turns 23 on Oct. 5. He seems to have the mind of a man twice his age. But when you’re the guy who runs water glasses, takes orders, serves food, buses tables and rings up the register, well, “it’s been accepted” that it’s not such a bad thing to have young legs.
Ruchi Bangladeshi Cuisine. Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, noon-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Dinner: 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m. daily. 4847 Peachtree Road, Chamblee. 678-691-9270, ruchiatlanta.com.