Amod Chopra likes to joke that the arc of his family-owned Viks Chaat cafe and grocery in Berkeley is best symbolized by an old TV set.
When the original 200-square-foot cafe opened in 1989 at a time when few non-Asian-Indian-Americans were familiar with the tradition of chaat or snacks, his father, for whom the business is named, put a TV in the dining room.
In the beginning, when few customers came through the doors, Chopra remembers watching shows on that TV to while away the hours of boredom. But then something happened as word began to spread of the vibrant, chili-inflected, palate-popping puffs, crepes, breads and chutneys that could be enjoyed at bargain prices.
“We got busy. And we moved the TV to another room,” he recalls. “Then, when we got really busy, we got rid of the TV.”
That was then. This is now — when a startling 1,000 people or so dine here on a typical Saturday or Sunday.
Some have been regulars since the beginning. It’s a good bet that for many, Viks was their first taste of Indian food beyond the requisite curries. What started out as a wholesale grocery still supplies the majority of Indian restaurants in the Bay Area today, too.