Dining With Denise Neil

Despite misunderstanding, Passage to India still very much open

Passage to India is still open at 6100 E. 21st St., suite 180.
Passage to India is still open at 6100 E. 21st St., suite 180.

In case anyone was worried or confused, Passage to India is very much still open in Wichita – and plans to remain open.

In the course of reporting the opening of Petra: A Taste of Jordan, a new restaurant at 6140 E. 21st St., I wrote that the restaurant would open in the “old Passage to India space.”

And that’s true. Petra is now operating in the space that Passage to India occupied from 2003 until 2011, when it moved across the strip mall to 6100 E. 21st St., suite 180. It’s been operating there ever since.

But several customers didn’t read far enough into the story and were confused, assuming it meant that Passage to India had closed and Petra was taking its place.

Not so. Nothing has changed at Passage to India.

I received a phone call from the restaurant today asking for clarification.

The restaurant, which serves Indian cuisine and is famous for its buffet and naan, originally opened in 1994. It has moved three times.

For more information, call 316-691-8300,

Also, take a minute to read this story I wrote in July of 2009, when the restaurant celebrated its 15th anniversary.

Loyal passengers

Originally published July 17, 2009

It was the early 1990s, and Ashok Aurora's daughter was getting married.

Aurora, an accountant and native of Punjab, India, wanted the 300 wedding guests to enjoy a feast of foods from his country.

But Wichita did not have a single Indian restaurant, and Aurora had to hire a caterer out of Oklahoma City.

From that inconvenience sprouted a business idea. Aurora found a location in the Plaza West shopping center at Central and West. He found a business partner and chef - trained Indian cook Kuldip Singh, who was working in California at the time.

And in September 1994, he opened Passage to India, Wichita's first Indian restaurant.

As the restaurant celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, it's still being run by the partners who started it.

It also has developed a loyal following of Wichitans, enticed by the exotic aromas and complex flavors of dishes like chicken tika masala, tandoori chicken, lamb vindaloo and fresh naan, cooked by Singh on the sides of a special clay oven in the kitchen.

"Once you get hooked, you get hooked, " Aurora said of his country's signature cuisine. "Then, you want it all the time."

About a year and a half after Aurora and Singh opened Passage to India at Plaza West, Aurora suffered three heart attacks. He had heart surgery and eventually a kidney transplant.

His two grown children insisted that he step away from the restaurant. He's continued as a behind-the-scenes co-owner and business manager, though he rarely visits the restaurant. (His doctor won't let him eat much of the food, anyway.)

The daily operation of the restaurant fell to Singh, a chef with years of experience blending styles of Northern Indian, Southern Indian and Mughlai cooking. Singh is often seen at lunchtime overseeing the buffet from a corner booth. His wife, Janak, runs the cash register.

During its life, the restaurant has moved twice. In the late 1990s, it relocated to 6249 E. 21st St. In 2003, it moved across 21st to 6140 E. 21st St., where it now has room for about 100 diners, a buffet, a dance floor, a fountain, a disco ball, and a big-screen television running a constant loop of Bollywood videos. (He and Singh also now provide the kind of catering that inspired the restaurant's birth.)

Wichita has treated its flagship Indian restaurant well, Aurora said.

Over the years, Passage to India has enjoyed a steady stream of traffic from British aircraft workers (Indian food is mainstream in England), from a population of missionaries at Bethel College who worked in India, and from various Wichita vegetarians and foodies.

Business has been slower than he'd like during recent tough economic times, Aurora said. But if things improve even a little, the restaurant will have no trouble staying in business another 15 years.

"It has been up and down, " he said. "But we have survived."