‘A gem in Berkeley’: Momo Masalas struggles amid COVID-19 pandemic

Photo of the restaurant, Momo Masala
Emilia Bulfone/File
Momo Masalas, an Indian and Nepalese eatery, is a local family-owned business that has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic due to the lack of customers. To help support the business, UC Berkeley senior Parham Rouzbahani and several of his friends created a website that is able to process order payments, in addition to continuously being updated with discounts and new dishes.

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Berkeley restaurant Momo Masalas, which serves Indian and Nepalese food, has been struggling to maintain operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic and low student patronage.

A family-owned business, Momo Masalas is an eatery with delicious and homey food, according to UC Berkeley senior Parham Rouzbahani. The establishment is known for a variety of dishes, including lamb curry and jhol momo, and many of the ingredients are hand-picked from co-owner Khendu Lama’s backyard.

“I found myself coming here time and time again, not only because the delicious food or because it reminds me very much of my parents and my grandparents’ homemade food, but also because I realized how kind and nice Khendu and Gopal are,” Rouzbahani said. “It’s a gem in Berkeley.”

The pandemic has been a difficult time for local businesses, according to Rouzbahani. With the loss of revenue, many establishments are facing the possibility of closing due to financial hardships.

More than 90% of Momo Masalas’ customers are UC Berkeley students, Lama said. When campus closed down in response to COVID-19, the lack of customers forced Momo Masalas to close temporarily for several months.

Lama added that the restaurant opened back up Sept. 16 and continues to operate today.

The pandemic, however, may cause Momo Masalas to close permanently, Lama said. Rent is expensive, and delivery services often take a high percentage of the restaurant’s profits, she added. In the timespan of a month and a half, Momo Masalas only received two orders from DoorDash.

“Our whole family works here; this is a family-owned business,” Lama said. “We put down all our savings to buy this restaurant.”

Lama reached out to Rouzbahani about two months ago to explain the financial hardships Momo Masalas has been facing. In response, Rouzbahani and several of his friends volunteered to build a website for the restaurant, according to Lama.

The website is able to process order payments online and is continually updated with discounts and new dishes, according to Rouzbahani.

“We have built a mother-kid relationship,” Lama said. “Lots of students have tried to reach out to me and see how I’m doing through Facebook.”

According to Rouzbahani, students have a moral responsibility to use the skill sets they have acquired from UC Berkeley to support the local community. Since the people working in the restaurants genuinely care about their student patrons, students should also care about them, Rouzbahani added.

Rouzbahani said he encourages students to choose local businesses over corporate ones and form relationships with owners. He also urged people to stay engaged on social media by making posts about their favorite restaurants.

“I really encourage you to look at how fortunate you are to be studying and living in a place like this and to try to take what you’ve learned from this wonderful institution to help out other people, whether that’s restaurants or local businesses,” Rouzbahani said.

Contact Kelly Suth at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @kellyannesuth.