For one Anchorage restaurant, risk of grand opening during pandemic leads to big rewards

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Deciding whether or not to reopen a business during the coronavirus pandemic, let alone open one for the first time, can be tough. One Anchorage restaurant, however, is reaping rewards after taking the leap.

"First day, I made $40," said Sanjay Shrestha, owner of the brand new Mandala restaurant in South Anchorage. "Second day, $60. Third day, $120."

With the opening of the shop, which boasts Nepalese and Indian cuisine, his journey had official officially begun, and it wasn't about to be abandoned - not even for a global pandemic.

"When it's your own business, you have to open the door!" Shrestha exclaimed.

Shrestha, who hails from Nepal, consulted a Buddhist priest - as is tradition - for a start date.

"Buddha is from Nepal, so every time we start a business, do something, we go to a priest," he said. "And the priest would give us a date."

The date was March 18.

So, the new restaurant had its grand opening just days before Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz enacted a "hunker down" order for the city. Things were quiet at first, with just a few orders coming in over an entire weekend, but have since picked up to the point of being very busy: Wait times started lengthening throughout the day on Thursday, but most everyone patiently waited for their orders.

"People come back. They say, 'Who made that naan? Who made that chicken? Why is it so flavorful?'" said Willis Walunga, the second part of the two-man team currently holding down the fort at Mandala. "We're not gonna say, 'This is what you add!' It's kind of a secret."

Shrestha and Walunga have already had quite a few repeat customers, they said.

"I look at people's faces when they come back, and they have that little twinkle in their eye," Walunga said, "and kinda know already what they want. That's what I get excitement and happiness from."

Whether it's the philosophy, food, a Buddhist blessing or something else, Shrestha said it's about hanging in there and making it work.

"I always tell my friends to always think you can make it happen," he said.

Mandala is located off Dimond Road and King St. in South Anchorage. The restaurant is currently only open for takeout.

This story originally aired on May 14, 2020.
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