Lawrence restaurants: Zen Zero owner says pandemic calls for food that can carry out well

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Subarna Bhattachan, the owner of Zen Zero, is pictured at his restaurant on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021.

This Q&A appeared in the Jan. 20, 2021, edition of the Journal-World’s Crave food supplement. More from that section, including interviews with the people behind several Lawrence restaurants, can be found here.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Zen Zero owner Subarna Bhattachan said his restaurant did a decent amount of carry-out orders, but now they make up the majority of his business. That’s why he says it’s important to make dishes that travel well.

Bhattachan recently spoke to the Journal-World about the challenges and rewards of the past year, some of the dishes on his menu and a few other topics.

Zen Zero, 811 Massachusetts St., is open 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. On Friday and Saturday, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Q: What’s your favorite item on your restaurant’s menu?

A: “I do like the curries. On the curries, I like the pad prik — it’s like a dry-style red curry. I also like the chicken satays, and I do like the drunken noodles, and I like the eggplant stir-fry.”

Q: What’s your favorite item on the Lawrence Restaurant Week menu?

A: The menu hadn’t been finalized when the Journal-World spoke to Bhattachan, but he said “we will probably make a steamed bun. It will be a steamed bun shaped like a taco, and it will be stuffed with Korean barbecue pulled pork with some Asian-style coleslaw, and that’s definitely one of my favorite ones.”

Q: What has your experience in the industry been like this year with the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: “It’s been slower than 2019, obviously … Most of our business is carryout, delivery, curbside. We have a little bit (of) dining in that’s done with social distancing … Everybody in the restaurant industry is having a difficult time, and that also includes us.”

Q: What has been the most rewarding part of the past year?

A: “The most inspirational or remarkable things that we’ve experienced here at the restaurant is the support we’ve received from the local community. Some people have sent us some cash donations, or they would leave a very nice tip to the service staff. I think generally, Lawrence, our community here, is very supportive of locally owned businesses, so we are very happy that happens to keep us afloat.”

Q: What is the one trend in food that you are most excited about right now?

A: “Well, the trend because of COVID has to be delivery, carry out, curbside. That is the trend, and your food has to reflect that. It has to carry out well. It has to have a decent shelf life. It has to be able to travel.

“Our food generally at Zen Zero, it carries well. It also reheats well. Our dishes are based out of curry sauces, so those tend to hold well. So we are lucky in that sense.”

Q: Other than your own restaurant, what restaurants do you enjoy eating at in Lawrence?

A: “For Japanese food, I definitely like the Nagoya restaurant. I do like the newer restaurant Argana. And I also like Chinese food from Red Pepper. I like their Sichuan menu. When I am hankering for some food from back home, I always go to India Palace.”

Q. Anything you want to tell the public?

A: “I would like to basically ask the community to support Lawrence Restaurant Week. We understand if you don’t want to dine in; that is completely understandable. Please dine out, do curbside pickup. It will really help local industries. We are definitely going to make a menu that carries well and has a decent shelf life. In the past, our local community has always supported Lawrence Restaurant Week. We really hope they will this time.”

Subarna Bhattachan

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Subarna Bhattachan, the owner of Zen Zero, is pictured at his restaurant on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021.

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