Niagara Gazette

May 8, 2013

DELUCA: Zaika's blooms as downtown begins its blossom

Michele DeLuca Commentary
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Mandy is dark-haired and vivacious, a typical young American mom, who loves the city she grew up in and wants to help bring it back to life. 

I walk around the corner to her restaurant on Third Street at least once a month and the crowds I find there, happily enjoying themselves, brighten my day on a variety of levels.

First, the food at Zaika’s is delicious. Chicken legs dusted with garlic, chili powder and a few other fragrant spices, cooked in a special oven to make them juicy and tender; with fresh-made bread just out of the oven, pillowy soft yet chewy and perfect for dipping in some of the colorful gravy-based dishes on the buffet in dishes rich with onions, peas and potatoes.  

Mandy Prabhdeep, a 2001 Niagara Falls High School graduate, along with her husband and father, owns Zaika’s on Third Street. If you’ve seen it lately, you may have noticed it was updated last year, with large, black-famed windows, a new modern facade and an outdoor seating perked up by black wrought iron tables and chairs and bright red umbrellas. 

I was grabbing some takeout for lunch there the other day and a customer walked up to Mandy and said “Best I ever had.”  

Mandy Prabhdeep tells me that’s because they use only fresh food. And they replace the items on the buffet often so people aren’t eating food that’s been sitting for hours. I usually order the buffet because it’s fast and I know it’s fresh as I stand there I’ve watched them freshen it. 

I love Indian food. A couple years ago I made it a point to eat at nearly all the Indian restaurants in the city, so I have several favorites, but this places delights me for its three-fold success.

What we have here is a busy, colorful, welcoming restaurant, serving great food; a business that adds to the synergy of the street;  and local businesses assisted in formidable challenges by government agencies who are slowly creating a network of success throughout downtown. Not to mention we have Mandy, mother of four young boys who, despite her recent nursing degree, has found her passion creating a restaurant people can enjoy.

As a bonus, the business is serving the needs of a large group of tourists from India whose increasing presence in the region hasn’t really been addressed. Every summer we see more and more women in colorful, flowing dresses and men in turbans who, for some reason seem to be drawn to the beauty of Niagara Falls. And, it appears that when they come to our city, they prefer their hometown foods — which is why the Indian restaurants are popping up like the daffodils, some of them really good and some, not so much.

Tourist season has already begun for Zaika’s, which is getting busloads of guests who come for breakfast and/or lunch. This impacts every person who wants to see Niagara Falls flourish. The success of one business typically draws another, but the chemistry is complicated and requires delicate attention by people who care.  

We have evidence of that caring through the help available to those who want to grow a business downtown. For anybody who can figure out how to do it well, success waves in the distance like a checkered racetrack flag. 

A $20,000 grant from the state’s USA Niagara Development Corporation helped to pay for the renovations to Zakia’s and the city gave another $10,000.  The old exterior, which Mandy described as looking like a beehive but not in a good way — was converted into a hip, elegant location that could be dropped right into Manhattan’s Soho. Since then, business has been up about 20 percent.

When I ran over to Zakia’s Tuesday to get some takeout from the buffet, volunteers from the Niagara Falls Beautification Commission were placing a dozen giant flower containers on Third Street, which they are moving over from the small park they also maintain near the Rainbow Bridge.  

Third Street is beginning to bud. Downtown is beginning to bloom. 

Change comes slowly in this city — like the turning of a giant ship. Some of it is due to government funding which, like green bait, draws those with the energy to take a chance. But, much of it is from the pockets of business people who live in this city and who have courageously jumped into the water, tired of waiting for the ship.

Chris Schoepflin, president of USA Niagara, tells me that each neighborhood in downtown is getting fortified. Embraced by the coming changes in the Robert Moses, south and north, the area is getting about $150 million in mostly private investment lured by public funds. The Historic District on Buffalo Avenue will draw more quant bed and breakfasts, new hotels are coming, even the Aquarium of Niagara is getting attention soon.  

And we all get another good restaurant in a city that is in desperate need of many, many more.

Michele DeLuca, features editor at the Niagara Gazette, can be reached at 282-2311, ext. 2263.




Michele DeLuca, features editor at the Niagara Gazette, can be reached at 282-2311, ext. 2263.