When Nik and Cindy Minhas moved to South Jersey from Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2003, they noticed a distinct lack of Indian food. For the longest time, they had discussed the idea of opening an Indian restaurant in the area.
Seeing that the population in Gloucester County was starting to grow and become more multicultural, they decided to take a risk and open Spicy Affair Indian Kitchen in Swedes Plaza shopping center in Woolwich Township in 2017.
“We were hesitant at first,” Cindy Minhas told Philly Grub. “There is a misconception about Indian food; it’s not all curry powder or spicy hot. It’s more about flavor than heat. I knew if people tried our food, they would become Indian food fans.”
The risk paid off. Spicy Affair has been doing very well ever since it opened at 95 Woodstown Road. It has become a family business with Nik and Cindy running the front of the house and their 22-year-old son Noah, who is a graduate of Rowan University, helping. They also have a 14-year-old son Josh.
“We love introducing people to Indian cuisine,” Minhas explained. “People who have never tried Indian food often ask what to try first. We often suggest butter chicken or chicken tikka masala as a good place to start. They instantly love it.”
Swedesboro is already home to several excellent restaurants, and there is a demand for more dining options. She feels that the people are becoming more adventurous with their palates and that it’s all about education and flexibility. There is a preconceived notion that all Indian restaurants are buffets or serve pre-made food. That is not the case at Spicy Affair.
“Our style of Indian food is not fast food,” she proclaimed. “We employ three chefs in the kitchen to make sure everything is freshly made to order.”
Special diets are always welcome, and substitutions are gladly accepted. Ingredients can easily be customized. Coconut milk for vegans and tofu for paneer, for example.
Serving high-quality cuisine and making sure the customer is always happy is the 1st priority for Minhas and her team.
“We truly put our heart into this business. We even take separate vacations so that at least one owner is on-premises at all times,” she professed.
It’s this hard work and determination that has made them a popular Indian food destination in South Jersey. With the current business so successful, they had considered opening another location. Ultimately, they decided it would be better to find a new place where they would own the real estate with the flexibility to grow.
When the former Bank of America location at 1427 Kings Highway in downtown Swedesboro, NJ, came up for sale, they knew it would be the perfect location for the vision they had for the restaurant. They purchased it in 2019. They hired local architectural consultant Yianni Papadaniil with Antony M. Dew Architects to reimagine the historic bank building built in 1916, into a chic restaurant that preserved the structural integrity of the architecture and saved and salvaged what they could.
“We tried to keep as much of the original materials– marble, stone, brass, etc.,” explained Minhas. “Naturally, there were things that needed repairs, such as cracks and other minor issues, but most of our renovations have been cosmetic, which accentuate this beautiful historic building.”
Supporting other local businesses was important to them. They hired Russo Contractors of Swedesboro to complete the renovations and Astro Signs of Glassboro for signage.
They had just started construction when the pandemic struck in March.
“It took the wind out of us for a second, but we knew we had to keep moving forward,” she said, describing the early days when Covid-19 hit. “It delayed our opening plans for the new restaurant, but we’re optimistic. We’re getting very close to wrapping up and plan to open soon.”
The restaurant on Woodstown Road remains operational, offering curbside pick-up and delivery (often by Nik and Noah). It has allowed them to stay in business while working on perfecting the new location. Once the new restaurant is open, though, the original will be closed permanently.
“The new location was tentatively supposed to open in June. We’re close to completing the work in the kitchen. We’re almost ready to start offering take-out here,” Minhas stated. “The inside dining room will be ready whenever New Jersey allows us to open for indoor dining.”
Without divulging too many details about the interior design before the grand reveal, Minhas promised that the public would love the painstaking improvements they’ve made to the building. It will feature a dining room downstairs that seats 100 and offer a banquet hall upstairs available for private parties, celebrations, and even small weddings and receptions for up to 30 people.
She promises that the space will be a new modern take on an Indian restaurant. It will still have an “Indian vibe” with a sophisticated, contemporary feel. There will be a “simple elegance” where everybody is welcome and will feel comfortable.
To enhance the dining experience, they’ve partnered with nearby William Heritage Winery to offer local wine to purchase by the bottle. Guests will be able to keep their own purchased bottles in a “wine cellar” on-premises with no corkage fees.
Besides running the restaurant, Cindy has an eye for fashion and is often considered a local fashionista. She had even considered it as her career choice at one point. She enjoys designer clothes and has a knack for putting the right items together to make a stylish fashion statement.
She is disappointed we are now in this pandemic because that used to be a highlight of her evening—the fun and conversation—customers were always anxious to see what outfit Cindy would wear that evening. She never wears the same outfit twice.
“We are excited to open the doors to our new restaurant in Swedesboro. We can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve done and welcome guests in for a unique dining experience in South Jersey. We know customers will be pleased.”
Stay tuned for more from this new hot spot in Swedesboro!