‘Just not the same’: Viks Chaat and Market navigates COVID-19 pandemic

Viks Chaat and Market outdoor dining area
Amod Chopra/Courtesy
In order to comply with social distancing measures amid the pandemic, Viks Chaat and Market worked with city officials and planners to create an outdoor dining space in its parking lot.

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Viks Chaat and Market, once a bustling market and restaurant filled with families and friends revisiting memories through spicy dosas and children experiencing the tantalizing taste of their parents’ pasts, now faces an uncertain future due to the effects of COVID-19.

The family-owned restaurant and market in Southwest Berkeley is known for its spicy authentic Indian street food and has been a cultural hub for South Asian and other food-loving communities for almost 30 years. As safety precautions for COVID-19 were implemented, however, Viks Chaat closed its doors, transitioned to takeout meals and only recently began outdoor dining. Viks Chaat currently operates at about 35% of what it used to.

“I never thought we would experience something like this. It almost seems surreal, like it’s out of a movie,” said executive chef and co-owner Amod Chopra. “But it is real; it is very real.”

Chopra added that the restaurant is teaching staff to stay safe and practice diligence, as well as providing them with personal protective equipment.

Viks Chaat started in 1989 when Chopra’s father began the business in a small room. Chopra worked with his sister on the weekends throughout his time in high school and as a UC Berkeley student. He added that though the restaurant is using its website, Facebook and Instagram, it is still trying to be more internet-friendly.

The restaurant grew with its customers and transitioned to larger spaces while maintaining the quality of its food through fresh produce and hand-prepared samosas, according to its website.

Chopra added, however, that he is concerned that eating the food as takeout is “just not the same” as dining in.

To make up for the loss of the usual dine-in experience, Viks Chaat recently coordinated with city officials and planners to design a unique outdoor dining experience in its parking lot.

There are shade umbrellas, planter boxes as separation barriers and 13 lavender and lime green painted picnic tables where customers can enjoy their food on a first-come, first-served basis. After a group eats, staff members sanitize the tables for the next hungry eaters.

Chopra said it makes his heart feel “lighter and happier” to see the beautiful tables and has heard from many customers that they love it as well.

He added that the restaurant is taking it one day at a time and encouraged people to wear their masks and stay safe.

“The business is a collection of all the people that have put in their sweat and their efforts throughout the years, and even today, it is the staff that really makes us who we are,” Chopra said. “We’re all committed to getting through this time together.”

Contact Dina Katgara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.