When Biju’s Little Curry Shop opened in RiNo in December 2014, it was a breath of fresh air for Denver’s Indian food scene. Owner and chef Biju Thomas gave us something unexpected and unique: a fast-casual approach to South Indian cooking based on make-your-own curry bowls, biriyani, flatbreads, and fiery chutneys. A niche within the Indian food niche, drawn from Thomas’ childhood in Kerala, India, Denverites loved it; Thomas eventually expanded to Tennyson Street and a stall inside Broadway Market.
Sadly, the original RiNo outpost and Broadway Market stall closed last fall, leaving only the Tennyson curry shop standing as 2020 began. Now, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, Thomas has announced that he’s permanently closing the last remaining location of his restaurant.
“We can string it together for a few months, but I don’t want a long, slow death,” Thomas says of the closure. “Nobody saw this one coming. You can plan for a lot of things and make adjustments, but this isn’t like that. The bottom just fell out and we don’t know when or if it’s going to come back and in what form.”
After shutting down his RiNo and Broadway locations last fall, Thomas remodeled the Tennyson shop and updated the menu with the help of newly-hired chef Taj Cooke, adding brunch items and removing the make-your-own elements from the menu. The restaurant re-opened on Thomas’ 50th birthday, the food was better than ever, and the neighborhood was very welcoming of the changes. In fact, Thomas says that February was the best month the restaurant had ever had.
“We just spent all this time and energy updating it. I wanted to launch version 2.0 of the whole thing,” Thomas says. “It was solid, it was awesome. But on March 3 or 4, sales completely fell off a cliff. We hung in there another week and then March 15 was our last day of operation. We’re a tiny, self-funded operation. I paid the staff for a couple weeks, but that’s it. There isn’t any more money.”
In the process of revamping the Tennyson Street store, Thomas built out a production catering kitchen; he’s hoping to find a meal kit or food delivery company to take over that lease. He’s also trying to find settlements for his creditors, so everyone can walk away with something.
“At the end of the day, we were able to go out on a high note,” Thomas says. “But even when the restaurant business is good, it’s brutal. I’m fried. This is all I’ve done 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’m ready for a break.”