Fresh naan is made inside a tandoor oven at this Chevron station, where Bombay Frankie Company serves inspired Indian food.
Like many immigrant-food success stories, The Bombay Frankie Company starts with family. So if you want to know why there's a tandoor oven inside a Chevron station in West L.A., the answer is pretty simple.
"Our family is in the gas station and convenience store business," says Hiram Mac, who opened The Bombay Frankie Company with his sister Priyanka and brother-in-law Dean in June. "We had this kitchen vacant for quite a bit of time."
Mac's father, who grew up in India, had owned a gas station in London before moving to L.A. in 1980 and taking over multiple gas stations.
Visit the family's West L.A. Chevron station during lunchtime, and you might see a line of more than a dozen people snaking toward the door. The crowd is here for chef Kamaljit Singh's fresh and fragrant frankies (which the restaurant is happy to say are like Indian burritos), as well as his flavorful samosas, curry bowls, vegetable dishes, mango lassis and rice pudding.
"We love Indian food, and we feel like there's a huge void in Los Angeles," Mac says. "It's either bottom of the barrel or luxury fine dining."
The Bombay Frankie Company is a quick-service operation, in a space that was formerly home to a sandwich shop, but Mac has also added seating for people who want to hang out and have an elegant dinner inside a gas station. He's noticed that dine-in customers who look closely at the open kitchen and its tandoor oven get pretty hungry.
"When they see things being made, that tends to pique their interest, and they start ordering more," Mac says. "The open kitchen lends itself to wanting to explore."
Mac and his sister have been enjoying Singh's food since they were children eating around L.A.'s San Fernando Valley. They followed him from restaurant to restaurant. Singh, who went on to open restaurants like Nawab and Bombay Café, became a friend of the family. After rising rents left him without a restaurant, Singh was happy to discuss Mac's unusual piece of family real estate.
Now Singh is using his gas station tandoor oven to prepare naan, chicken and paneer for frankies.
"We needed to have the tandoor," Mac says. "We didn't want to compromise with a tortilla or any pre-packaged bread."
The Bombay Frankie Company has done so well that Mac is thinking about expanding.
"We're exploring another gas station or a standalone retail location," Mac says. "We want to have a second store by year-end. While it's cool that we're paired with the gas station, I don't think we necessarily want to be known for that."
Mac laughs when he considers his unlikely success at The Bombay Frankie Company, which gets a large amount of its business from delivery orders.
"A lot of customers haven't seen the restaurant," he says. "They don't even realize it's in a gas station. I'd love to say we had a crystal ball, that business people would have predicted our success. I think we catch ourselves every week saying we managed to put this together against all odds."