A twenty five year anniversary is a considerable achievement, especially when it comes to Hollywood marriages or restaurants, and owner Trushar Patel has real reason to be proud of his Hyde Park Indian and Southern comfort food cafeteria-style local gem, Rajun Cajun, officially in business since 1993. And you can join in the celebration during the entire month of December with a special 25% savings when you dine at the restaurant (takeout and delivery orders not included).
If you’ve never been to Rajun Cajun before, a few things will be evident when you visit the restaurant for the first time, including a) it smells delicious, b) it’s immaculate, c) if it’s not owner Trushar Patel taking your order, it will be his wife, Anila, or his son, Nishil. The family works together at the restaurant, and as Trushar says, his wife and son are the most influential people in his life.
Born and raised in Kenya, Trushar came to the United States in 1979 when he was in his early 20s. He started working as a crew member at McDonald’s, advancing his way up to supervisor – a position he held for 16 years. He was on track to have his own franchise location when Nishil was born several months premature. The medical bills for his son’s care upended those plans, and ultimately led Trushar and his brother Rohit to partner in buying a shuttered chicken restaurant location in Hyde Park now known as Rajun Cajun.
There aren’t many Indian food restaurants 10+ miles south of Devon Avenue, let alone combined with Southern comfort food classics, and when the restaurant first opened, Trushar had to rely on word of mouth, sampling, and recommendations from his first customers to bring in more business. Rajun Cajun built a loyal following with international students at the University of Chicago missing their favorite Indian specialties, which kickstarted a tradition that continues today – customers sending postcards addressed to the restaurant from their vacations and visits home. When Rajun Cajun was renovated several years ago, a collection of the postcards was incorporated into a mural on the restaurant’s main wall.
It’s not uncommon for the visiting parents of international students to ask Trushar and his wife to keep an eye out for their sons or daughters, and there are now second-generation customers visiting Rajun Cajun as well. His first employees are still with the restaurant; a true record for the industry. Trushar says, “We treat our customers like family, and that’s an extension of the way we treat our employees, too. It’s not the typical employer/employee relationship – there’s a lot of trust involved.” And once you fall in love with Rajun Cajun’s samosas, you can rest easy knowing they have been made by the same woman since the restaurant opened its doors, and won’t be changing anytime soon.
Running the restaurant is a more than full-time endeavor for Trushar’s family – all the food is made in-house and each day begins with lots of peeling and chopping of fresh ingredients – nothing is ready-made or from a can. Traditional Indian recipes are very labor-intensive, and Trushar makes almost everything himself, just as he learned growing up. The Rajun Cajun menu has something for everyone, with many vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. It’s become a local family favorite, since kids not adventurous enough for chicken curry are usually open to fried chicken or mac and cheese.
In honor of the restaurant’s anniversary and with an eye to the future, Trushar recently worked with a local design company to refresh Rajun Cajun’s logo, website, menus, and social media presence. It’s now possible to order directly from the restaurant online, with delivery by Rajun Cajun employees, making sure your saag paneer or butter chicken is just how you want it.
1459 E. 53rd Street