Carrie Rengers

Restaurateur sells to competitor he once put out of business

Lawyer Abdul Arif has purchased Passage to India from the man who once put him out of the restaurant business.
Lawyer Abdul Arif has purchased Passage to India from the man who once put him out of the restaurant business. The Wichita Eagle

Around the same time Kuldip Singh opened Passage to India in 1994, a young man named Abdul Arif opened an Indian restaurant called Maharaja.

Passage to India went on to become Wichita’s most popular Indian restaurant.

And Maharaja? It went out of business less than two years later.

“He … put me out of business,” Arif says of Singh. “Because I was young, stupid and arrogant.”

Now, Arif has purchased Passage to India.

“It’s kind of bittersweet and ironic that the guy who put me out of business, I bought him out ... 20 years later,” Arif says.

He says the deal was completely amicable.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Arif says.

He says he’s keeping Singh’s staff and recipes.

“The brand is so well known,” Arif says. “His recipes are so well known.”

Singh’s son, Kam, says his family encouraged his father to retire.

“You know, my dad is 74 years old,” he says. “We don’t want him to work that hard.”

He says the restaurant business is challenging.

“It’s always 24-7. You are busy.”

The family still has Bayleaf in Lawrence.

Singh says his family came to know Wichita families extremely well through the years and saw whole generations grow up.

“We just want to give them best regards,” he says. “We just want to say thanks … for their support since ’94.”

Arif says he’s signed a one-year lease where Passage to India is at 6100 E. 21st St., but he’s now looking for a new building or land to build a new home for the restaurant after that.

His goal is to have a contemporary space that doesn’t have what he calls a traditional Indian motif.

“Basically, I want to replicate P.F. Chang’s … with Indian cuisine,” Arif says. “I want to appeal to millennials.”

Arif is a lawyer, but he’s been getting more into the restaurant business lately.

In 2014, he purchased Avivo Brick Oven Pizzeria at NewMarket Square.

“It was a hell of a learning experience, but we’re getting there,” he says. “It’s making money.”

Now, he’s building an almost 9,000-square-foot retail center in Twin Lakes at 21st and Amidon where he’s opening a Huddle House in March and moving his law office.

Look for news within the next week on another restaurant that someone else will open in his center.

Arif also is a partner in the nonprofit Mayflower Clinic, which is moving to new downtown space next month at the Primeline building at First and Topeka, which Arif recently purchased.

It all might sound like a lot to handle, abut Arif says there’s a reason he’s pursuing so much.

“This country’s full of opportunity,” he says. “There’s gold in them streets, just lying there to be picked up every day. … That’s something I sincerely believe. Truly believe in it. There’s gold in them streets. You just have to find it.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers