Rupam Bhagat's restaurant dream began with a food truck. Photo by Laura Waxmann

After bringing Indian soul food to the Bay Area on wheels, the chef behind the popular food truck “Dum” has taken his menu off the road and into the 24th Street space that once housed the Local Mission Eatery.

Sitting inside of his first brick and mortar location at 3111 24th St.,  which he quietly opened to the public on June 7, Rupam Baghat, a former Ritz Carlton sous chef, acknowledged that before investing $50,000 in a food truck in 2014, he had specialized in fine dining and banquets.

He wanted, he said,  “to do something different” and so he spent the better part of the last two years perfecting his take on Indian soul food behind the counter of the teal and orange painted food truck.

“I never cooked full-fledged, day in and day out, with indian flavors and spices until I got that truck,” he said.

Baghat initially ran his truck as a “one man show,” with regular appearances at Off-The Grid and other mobile food truck markets around the city.  “You’re the chef, the owner, the dishwasher, the purchaser, the guy who mops the floor – all at once,” said Bhagat.

With time came finesse, and Baghat quickly gained recognition among street food enthusiasts for his chicken biryani – a generously seasoned, casserole-like rice dish layered with meat that is slow-cooked in a process called “Dum,” the namesake of his food truck and his new restaurant.

Inside Dum Indian Soul Food at 3111 24th St. Photo by Laura Waxmann

That recipe, and several others carried over to the brick and mortar space on 24th street. He calls the 49-seat restaurant that spans roughly 1,200 square-feet an extension of his food truck. The latter is currently navigating new territory in the East and South Bay.

Baghat said his prices are reasonable in comparison to other restaurants in the neighborhood, set at just “a dollar or two up” from his food truck menu prices to balance the additional costs of a liquor license, labor, and rent.

The Indian food-truck-turned-restaurant isn’t an exclusive novelty in the Mission. Curry Up Now, at 659 Valencia St., offers Indian street food at four brick and mortar locations and five food trucks throughout San Francisco and the South Bay.

Still, Baghat said he’s not worried about competition. “Curry Up Now has really set the standard – they showed us that it could be done,” he said. “But their concept is much different than ours.”

Part of what makes Bhagat’s Indian food unique is that he does not place much emphasis on tradition or authenticity.  For example, Dum’s customer’s won’t find naan, a type of oven-baked flatbread that usually accompanies curries and other Indian dishes, on the menu.

“[Making] Naan is a specialized skill,” explained Baghat. “I didn’t want to put something on the menu that I can’t do well myself.”

Baghat said the local community has been welcoming. He hopes to avoid some of the troubles that plagued the predecessor of his restaurant space.

For some six years, the Local Mission Eatery, a “farm-to-table” restaurant that was part of the small empire of Mission-based restaurateur Yaron Milgrom, closed in December 2015, when Milgrom cited a lack of customers and a dwindling workforce as reasons why the business could not compete.

“We are here to be a part of neighborhood where we do business,” said Bhagat. “We are a family-run restaurant, for the community. That is our dream – why would we do anything that would jeopardize that?”

Some customers dining at Dum on Wednesday evening embraced the Indian eatery as a change in palate for the traditionally Latino neighborhood.

“The next Indian restaurants around here are Dosa [on Valencia Street] and Pakwan [on 16th street], and they have totally different styles,” said Ryan McGinn, a consultant who lives down the street from Dum and has already eaten there “five or six” times since it opened.

“Its good food, it’s a different compared to the other restaurants on this street, and the biryani is the best,” said McGinn. “It’s a little gem that is close to home.”

Baghat said that so far, some 90 percent of his clientele live within a “four block radius” from Dum.
“We have a family that lives right above Philz and was here four times last week,” said Baghat.  “We have young executives who live here and dine in, but we are also a family restaurant.”

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