Sunday, July 21, 2024

Pushpir Bhetia sells Depth N Green foods and goods at the Kendall Square Farmers Market in Cambridge on Thursdays. (Photo: Susanne Beck)

Serendipity would be a good brand name for Pushpir Bhetia’s life if not his line of high-quality Indian food products, better known by the label Depth N Green.

It was seemingly by chance, after all, that the then 26-year-old native of New Delhi landed in New York City in 1997 and moved quickly from doing odd jobs to owning a line of cellphone stores to finding himself in Boston, serving food as Guru the Caterer and now staffing a new business’ table at this summer’s Kendall Square farmers market. He will be at that location every Thursday from Noon to 6 p.m. until the market closes Nov. 16.

“I still love New York City,” Bhetia says wistfully, but after 9/11, “the whole city vibe became very odd, very different. I’m a Sikh. We have a beard and turban … our lives were not the same and our wives wanted to move a little farther away.”

Bhetia was standing at West 72nd Street and Broadway talking to his cousin soon thereafter, explaining his interest in moving not too far from his in-laws in Queens. “Suddenly I saw a Greyhound bus go by with a Boston sign,” he remembers. He asked his cousin if he knew anyone there. “He said he knows somebody who knows somebody.” Bhetia was on the road at daybreak the next day. By 10:30 a.m., he was walking down Newbury Street. “I called my wife by 11 o’clock and said, we are moving. She said, you’ve been there hardly for half an hour, but I said ‘Trust me. I feel like I’m really in America now.’”

Building on his New York experience, Bhetia launched another cellphone business, opening a quick succession of stores in his new city. But by 2004, “suddenly this whole partnership fell through big time. We lost a lot of money – more than half a million dollars.” Looking for guidance, he turned to his guru from India. “My guru had been telling me for a couple of years ‘You should get into the hospitality business and try making food.’ I said, ‘I don’t know how to cook anything.’ He said patiently: ‘You have to start practicing.’” Bhetia returned to India to consider the advice and to meditate, find peace and, possibly, learn how to cook.

Tiffin and Guru the Caterer

Months later, restored emotionally if not financially, he was ready for his next step. “I called one of my cellphone customers who worked at MIT. He’s from India.” Bhetia said he was considering making authentic Indian lunchboxes for MIT students – “food like our mothers would make,” he said. “Not American Indian food which has low-quality ingredients, bad spices and food coloring.” His MIT friend “jumped on the idea.”

Within weeks it seemed like most of the university’s Media Lab was ordering. “They started loving the food,” he says humbly. It reminded them of the food back home – and better. He booked commercial space in Somerville under the name Tiffin, the Indian term for lunchbox, to accommodate a clientele that began to include students and faculty from Harvard and Boston University. “I was serving lunchboxes to almost 120 students and faculty members within a year … and I was the only one cooking.”

The guru’s advice had clearly been on the mark. “Eventually all these big professors or other people started calling me and saying ‘Hey, would you be able to cater the event? We have 30 people coming, 40 people.’” Simple lunchboxes turned into a full-scale catering operation feeding the growing Indian workforce in Kendall Square’s tech firms as well as former Tiffin customers who were now interns or full-time employees there. “We became the No. 1 caterer in Boston,” Bhetia said, with a bit of wonder at his own good fortune. He stayed true to the basics he grew up on and laughs at the memory of new clients requesting things such as naan, a staple of Indian food in the states. “Naan?” he chuckled. “There is not one mother in India that serves naan!” He named his growing business Guru the Caterer. It and a restaurant called D’Guru were based in Somerville’s Teele Square.

Back in the kitchen

The birth of his second child – a daughter – in 2014 forced a change. “My wife was a vice president in the bank. She said, ‘I can use some break time.’ She said she would love to spend time living in India where, if you’re doing well, you can hire a chauffeur, you have a couple of cooks at home working, making breakfast, lunch for you. You can live large over there.” They agreed to sell the catering business and head home. It was near their guru, who had started a café called DepthNGreen Café in Bangalore, in southern India. “I could follow my guru, do some more meditation and reinvent myself,” Bhetia thought.

In no time, he found himself back in the kitchen, helping his mentor expand his menu in between contemplating his life and his future in the on-site meditation room. Bhetia credited his guru with his growing awareness, especially of the potential role of food in one’s life. If he could offer locally sourced, well-grown products, he wouldn’t just be serving meals, he would be serving health. 

He returned to the United States within the year, reinvigorated and with a new vision: a Depth N Green product line – spices, cookies and chutneys, which are available at the farmers market – and plans for a café like the one in India. “I’m looking for a location,” he said, describing a menu of traditional food with high-quality, organic ingredients as well as Indian-inspired sandwiches and smoothies. “We have also worked on our recipes for Indian-flavored ice cream.”

“Enjoy every aspect”

Bhetia hopes that when his customers enjoy his food and his market products, they, too, take the time to pause and become more aware. “We work so hard for what? Big cars, big houses or work. If we can’t enjoy one meal a day, then what’s the point of working hard? I personally feel people these days have taken their health for granted. It is one of the biggest privileges they have to enjoy at least one good meal a day,” he said.

He is not unsympathetic to those who work long hours; he has done the same. “I understand. People are rushing for work – lawyers, software engineers, whatever you are doing. But if you can’t sit for 30 minutes or even for 20 minutes, just chew your bite. Enjoy every aspect of that in your mouth – the spices, the flavor – and everything becomes very meditative.” And, according to Bhetia and his guru, life-affirming. Something to chew on, for everyone.

The Kendall Square Farmers Market, sponsored by BioMed Realty and produced by Mass Farmers Markets, showcases a variety of Massachusetts products and other goods at stalls open from noon to 6 p.m. Thursdays until Nov. 16 at 450 Kendall St.

This post was updated Aug. 4, 2023, to correct that Pushpir Bhetia’s second child was born in 2014.