Goodbye, Mother India
Sep 14, 2018 01:19PM
By Tamsen Butler
Mother India Restaurant is permanently closing this weekend.
Saturday, Sept. 15, will be the restaurant’s last day of business, says Preethi D’Souza. The restaurant is open noon-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m on its final day.
“My father is retired,” she says. “We can’t keep running the business because my dad has Parkinson’s, and we can’t find enough people in the kitchen. We’d like to thank all our customers for supporting us all these years, being there for us, loving us, and loving our culture.”
Even though Preethi works with her parents (father Joseph and mother Eppie) at Mother India, running the restaurant has been so overwhelming that they found it difficult accommodate quality time together.
The family had been trying to take their breaks together when the restaurant’s bustling activity slowed enough that the family restaurant’s other two employees could manage things.
They were making up for lost time. For nine years, Preethi stayed behind in India with her aunt while her parents moved to the United States to start building a life here. The couple arrived in America with less than $50 in their pockets. Joseph was summoned to Omaha to be the chef at Indian Oven. “It was Omaha’s first Indian restaurant, and they wanted an authentic Indian chef,” Eppie says. “We were very happy and the restaurant was very successful, but we started looking for a small restaurant of our own.” They opened Mother India in 2010.
In the meantime, Eppie and Joseph were fervently trying to get approval from U.S. Immigration to allow Pretthi to join them. Pretthi was eager to reunite with her parents, too. “I heard so many stories about America,” Pretthi says. “We lived in a very poor neighborhood and moving to the United States was a dream that was impossible for some.”
Three times their requests to bring Pretthi over were denied. Unwilling to give up, Eppie made an appointment with an Indian lawyer in Omaha. But when the time came for the appointment, the lawyer was sick and the D’Souzas were assigned to another lawyer at the same firm.
For some people, getting assigned a different lawyer for such a crucial family matter might be annoying. But Eppie soon realized fate had allowed the switch.
“Do you remember me?” asked Matthew Morrisey, the attorney assigned to assist Eppie in getting her daughter permission to come to America. Though she tried to recall his face, she couldn’t remember how she might have known him. It turned out that Matthew, as a child, was babysat by none other than Eppie herself. She didn’t recognize him as an adult.
“God sent angels for me from Heaven,” Eppie says.
Morrisey took on the task of getting Pretthi permission to join her parents in Omaha with determination. “He worked very hard,” Eppie says, and permission was eventually granted. “He’s in our hearts. All of his family is in our hearts. We keep in touch.”
The experience of someone becoming like family to the D’Souza family is not rare. “Our regular customers are like family,” Eppie says.
“We’re lucky to have loyal customers,” agrees Pretthi.
“They’ve joined our family,” Eppie adds, gesturing toward the dining room of Mother India as though it was the dining room of their home. On the Friday before closing for good, a line of waiting customers stretched out along the sidewalk.
The family atmosphere of Mother India is undeniable. When Pretthi isn’t at the University of Nebraska-Omaha studying international business management, she’s at the restaurant helping things run smoothly while trying to sneak in time to do her homework.
She reluctantly agreed to learn how to cook, but quickly discovered that she really enjoys working alongside her father and learning how to prepare Indian dishes. “I didn’t want to cook,” she admits. “But a person was needed, and I liked learning from my father.”
Pretthi’s business degree could have put her in a position to eventually run Mother India, but she was not sure she wanted the obligation. “I don’t want to work 15 hours a day,” she says. “My mom and dad always encourage me in my studies. I’ll see where my path takes me and what opportunities I’ll have in the future.”
Although the family is happy and business has been good, the labor expense proved too much for the family restaurant. Although, they have noticed many new customers since The Conrad apartment community opened in 2017. Pretthi says the age demographic of customers has changed, too: “They used to be older, but now they’re my age.”
People have been drawn to Mother India’s reputation for authentic Indian food. “My dad’s been cooking Indian food for 55 years,” Pretthi says. “He’s cooked Indian food in many different countries.”
An impressive collection of “Best of Omaha” awards and designations displayed at the entrance of Mother India tell the story of a tiny restaurant that managed to capture the hearts of the locals.
The day before closing, Eppie wants the family’s many loyal customers to know that they have captured her heart, too. Or, in her own words: “Make sure to tell the customers how much we love and appreciate them.”
Mother India is located at 1908 Leavenworth St. and can be reached by phone at 402-763-2880.