Built in the 1850s the Bertram Building has housed contemporary Indian restaurant Clay Pit for 20 years.
“[The building] has been a part of such a great history of American culture, especially the transitioning from the old world to the new world,” owner Balinder Singh said.
Fusing old and new is core to the restaurant’s ethos.
“We wanted to take Indian food out of that strip-mall, mom and pop kind of concept ... present our food to mainstream Americans,” Singh said.
To counteract misconceptions some people have about Indian food, Singh said the restaurant focuses on modernizing traditional dishes, such as a vegetarian take on curry; prioritizing savory flavors over spice; and offering unique beverage pairings, from an extensive wine list to house-infused vodkas.
“For us it’s pretty critical that people are exploring,” Singh said, not “hung up on chicken tikka masala.”
Singh studied hotel management in Switzerland before moving to the U.S. to work as a chef. He joined Clay Pit in 1999, shortly after it opened.
Since then the number of Indian restaurants in Central Austin has grown from a handful to dozens.
“They’re opting to dine with us. It is our moral obligation to pamper them and to make them feel good,” he said of Clay Pit’s customers.
As the restaurant has expanded the palate of some of its customers, so, too, has the local community affected the restaurant’s growth.
A switch to compostable straws has been well-received, Singh said, and he is always working to improve packaging options and wait times for customers who may only know Clay Pit from food-delivery services, which have grown to be a larger part of the restaurant’s business in recent years.
“There’s no better line of work I would choose than this one, where your community is there to help you out,” he said. “I love it.”