January 2 was critical darling Pondicheri's first Meatless Monday. Chef Anita Jaisinghani, also owner of Indika, instated the policy with a mind to reduce the restaurant's impact on the environment and to give the chef an opportunity to revisit some of her vegetarian childhood favorites. The kitchen prepared a number of specials and printed an entirely new menu for the occasion. While a few diners showed up explicitly to support the idea, an estimated 50 customers turned around and left when they heard they would not be served meat.
One customer approached Jaisinghani's son, who was working at the counter, to demand a chicken Frankie and told him, "I know you have chicken back there, just pack one up for me and I won't tell anyone." Another threw a menu on the counter before storming out.
That morning, the chef received an angry email:
I was curious about your "Meatless Mondays", I really enjoy your place and was trying to order some food for lunch and was just informed that on "Meatless Mondays" you don't serve anything with meat. I thought maybe I had missed something on your website saying this, but I have looked around and it is not mentioned anywhere. I find this really baffling and was curious your reasoning behind this. If I want to not eat meat, I will choose to order something meatless. However, I feel that if I want to order a chicken sandwich I shoudln't be refused. Please explain this?
Meatless Monday had been listed on the menu for two weeks prior and information was added to the website yesterday.
"Pondicheri to me is such an expression of my heart, and growing up in India it was a rule in my family that we didn't eat meat for at least one day a week. So this is going back to my roots a little bit," said Jaisinghani.
The regular menu includes a number of vegetarian dishes and will remain available every Monday with the addition of specials including sai bhaji, a spinach and lentil dish finished with dill that is native to Jaisinghani's region, the Sindh province.
"I think [this anger] has to do with living in America, not with living in Texas. If I was to open Pondicheri anywhere, I would keep Meatless Monday," said the chef.
Though Jaisinghani is a little nervous, she plans on continuing the practice. "I had mixed feelings about it that day but when I thought back, I decided I am going to do it for this year. Obviously, it's a business decision but I think it will eventually pick up when we do more exciting things with the menu and people begin to endorse the idea."