WATERVILLE — The Jewel of India restaurant opened Monday on Main Street downtown, adding something entirely new to the city’s culinary landscape.

“It’s excellent,” said Tanya Verzoni, sales and marketing coordinator for the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce. “It fills a void of something we didn’t already have here and further enhances Waterville as a great local dining destination.”

Verzoni was one of about 25 chamber and Waterville Main Street program officials who gathered at the 104 Main St. eatery to mark its grand opening with a ribbon cutting and buffet lunch.

They said an Indian restaurant has long been sought after because the food is healthful and popular.

“I think this is a real asset for the community,” said retired Colby College professor and state Rep. Thomas R.W. Longstaff, D-Waterville. “A lot of people have said to me over a long period of time that they’d like to see an Indian restaurant in Waterville. I learned to like Indian food from Nikki Singh, a professor at Colby and good friend as well. I like the spices.”

Chef Prem Sharma owns the restaurant, as well as two others in Biddeford and South Portland. Those restaurants have often catered for Colby students and Waterville residents, according to Rishi Malik, Sharma’s cousin who manages the new restaurant.

Malik said 80 percent of the food is gluten free. It is cooked with cholesterol-free vegetable oil and tweaked to patrons’ tastes — mild, medium or hot and spicy.

“It’s just right,” said chamber member Robert Sezak, as he dined on Chicken Tikka Masala, basmati rice, pakora and channa masala, a chick pea dish. “It’s got the right amount of heat. If you want more, there’s this sauce to liven it up, or mint to cool it off. I particularly like this hot stuff because I like my food spicy.”

Sezak, chairman of the Fairfield Town Council and owner of RE-BOOKS in downtown Waterville, said he and Patrick Groleau, a customer of his bookstore, have spent the last four years knocking on doors of Indian restaurants, trying to find one that would locate in Waterville.

“Patrick gave Rishi my phone number and I showed him this space, but he had already known about it,” Sezak said.

Advocates for downtown often cite the variety of restaurants as one of the things that draws people to the city.

Jennifer Olsen, executive director of Waterville Main Street, called Monday’s event “a celebration of the flavors downtown.”

“Another family is expanding their business into our city, which is great,” she said. “Waterville has advocated for a very long time for this wonderful day.”

Kimberly Lindlof, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer, echoed Olsen’s sentiments.

“The Mid-Maine Chamber has been receiving lots of positive feedback and excitement around this opening,” she said.

Sandwiched between Northern Mattress and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree’s office, the restaurant seats 40, offers catering and takeout and hosts special parties and gatherings, according to Malik. It is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, and stays open an hour later on Friday and Saturday

The restaurant, in the former Bank of Maine space, has a second entrance off The Concourse. Malik said his family is happy and excited to be in the city.

“The response has been really overwhelming,” he said.

Before the chamber and Main Street officials arrived, Katherine Stubbs of China popped into the restaurant, eager to learn whether it was in business.

“I’ve been driving by every day, looking at the front door, hoping they were open,” Stubbs said.

Malik said it would officially open later in the day.

“I’ll be back,” Stubbs said. “I think a lot of people are extremely excited.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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