In 2017, Rahul Vinod ’11 and Sahil Rahman ’12 opened the doors to their first restaurant, RASA — a fine, casual Indian restaurant in the Navy Yard neighborhood of Washington, DC. They not only wanted to run a successful restaurant, but they also wanted to be proud of their business and its involvement in the community. Helping the community is exactly what RASA is doing now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As much of the hospitality industry faces challenging and uncertain times, RASA has closed its doors to in-dining business but has remained committed to supporting its community. RASA is providing free take-out meals for all hospital workers, school children and RASA’s own team members and their families.
“Community and connection have always been at the heart of what we do at RASA,” Vinod said. “The least we can do is offer our front-line hospital workers free meals.” Many children rely on school for their food, so RASA is aiding in ensuring the kids in their own neighborhood don’t go without meals.
This love for their community comes from two major parts of Vinod’s and Rahman’s lives: their Indian roots and their upbringing in restaurant families. Their fathers were business partners and owned fine-dining Indian restaurants together since 1991, so Vinod and Rahman quite literally grew up within these restaurants. They realized many of their friends had never experienced Indian cuisine, so they were always bringing them to their parents’ restaurants. They wanted to make Indian food more accessible, and in high school, they wrote a business plan together to start an Indian restaurant.
After graduating from the Smith School, both Vinod and Rahman went on to work on Wall Street. Vinod worked in investment banking at BNP Paribas while Rahman was a business analyst at Deloitte. “Our experiences at Smith were instrumental to the foundation of building our business,” Vinod said. “We had a restaurant background on a personal level, but we took a more methodical approach to starting a business thanks to Smith.”
After four years in their corporate roles, they looked back at their high school dream of owning a restaurant and decided to turn this dream into a reality. Before they opened RASA, the soon-to-be business partners traveled to India to increase their knowledge of the intricacies of Indian cuisine. Here they had the opportunity to visit Akshaya Patra, which runs the world’s largest midday feeding program that feeds 1.8 million children each day through hundreds of schools across India. While working with Akshaya Patra, they visited one of their production kitchens and even assisted in feeding the kids.
This mentality of giving back strongly influenced RASA’s reaction to the world’s current pandemic. Even after losing more than 65% in sales once DC restaurant restrictions were set, RASA put their community above all else. RASA is currently open 6 days a week to produce takeout and delivery orders, as well as these generous free meals.
“Within a few days, the whole world shifted,” Vinod said. “Most restaurants in DC are small, local businesses. The sad reality is that we’re all just struggling to get by. We’re all trying to do the best we can.”
In addition to the obvious effects of these restrictions, RASA had to hold on opening its second location, which was scheduled to open in DC’s Mount Vernon neighborhood the week of March 23. Vinod is confident that once everything settles, they will be opening the doors to this second location, as well as continuing the development of their third location in Crystal City.