Meherwan Irani’s culinary journey began when he moved from India to America for graduate school. He was disappointed by the generic buffets that dominated South Asian restaurants, so far from what he ate at home. Determined to bring the real taste of Indian cuisine to the American palate, he opened the first Chai Pani restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina, in 2009.
The phrase “Chai Pani” holds significance in Indian culture beyond its literal translation. It symbolizes the warm hospitality and welcoming nature of Indian culture, where offering someone “chai pani” in a social setting means extending hospitality towards them and is often accompanied by engaging conversations and bonding.
With his innovative approach to blending Indian and Southern American flavors, Chef Merherwan Irani created unique and mouth-watering dishes that challenged the status quo. One such standout creation is the irresistible okra fries seasoned with punchy chaat masala and a spritz of zesty lime. It’s certainly a clever twist on a Southern favorite, “fries.” However, what sets Chai Pani apart is not just the exceptional food but also the warm and welcoming atmosphere cultivated by Meherwan Irani and his wife, Molly. The restaurant doesn’t just offer authentic Indian taste but also embodies the essence of Indian hospitality. Inspired by the Indian concept of “Atithi Devo Bhava” (the guest is god), they prioritize the well-being and comfort of their customers. It’s not just a restaurant—it’s a gathering spot where people from all walks of life come together to share a meal and create lasting memories.
Beyond the restaurants, Meherwan Irani’s influence extends to Spicewalla, his spice company that has over 250 fresh and high-quality spices. Spicewalla allows home cooks across the country to infuse their dishes with authentic Indian flavors. The recognition of Chef Irani’s efforts reached new heights in 2022 when Chai Pani Asheville received the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant.