From India To Spain: Bindi To Become Jamonera

What do you do when you’ve got three restaurants and a food market, a spare liquor license and an underperforming Indian BYOB? If you’re Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, you drop the Indian concept and turn the space into a Spanish wine bar. On September 24, the pair will close Bindi, their 4-year-old Indian restaurant across the street from Barbuzzo, and reopen it as Jamonera sometime between early December and early January.

The explanation for the drastic replacement?

“After a while you get tired of hearing people say, ‘We don’t eat Indian food,’” sighs Safran.

The BYOB, cash-only Bindi has proven a poor fit for the neighborhood and with the ever-growing epicurean empire Safran runs with her partner, Turney.

“As a business model, a BYOB is fine when you’re not paying a chef and someone else to run the front of the house,” she says. “But we pay a lot of money to keep top people. Otherwise, they go somewhere else.”

Futher, Safran points out that the neighborhood gets a lot of tourists who don’t get the BYO thing and who aren’t prepared to pay in cash. But as a BYO, Bindi’s revenues couldn’t support the thousands of dollars a year it would take to accept credit cards or reservations through an outside online system like Open Table. (In case you’re wondering why Lolita, the pair’s bring-your-own-tequila restaurant, is different, Safran says Lolita has a long-standing reputation and makes money off its creative and ever-changing margarita mixes.)

When Safran and Turney decided to bring a second liquor license into their corporation, they first thought they’d bring it to Bindi. Then they realized it probably wouldn’t provide enough payoff, so instead, they turned toward something they know. Safran studied in Seville as a college student and was a Spanish teacher in a former life. The two frequently travel to Spain and have another trip planned for fall. A Spanish restaurant, then, was a logical choice.

They’re bringing in Urban Space to redesign the interior and add a ten-person bar to the front. They’ll serve small plates, not tapas, which are smaller, and they aim to cultivate a space that puts patrons at ease. Their name, Jamonera, refers to the stand a Serrano ham sits on to be cut.

And, voila (or however you say that in Spanish or one of the 18 official Indian languages), by the beginning of next year the world will have one more Spanish wine bar and one less Indian BYOB.

“Ten years into opening restaurants, you learn a little something,” concludes Safran. “And people’s perception of Indian food is limited.”

Bindi [Official website]

The Safran/Turney Empire [We Love 13th Street]

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  • Michael G

    Since the Chef wasn’t Indian I was hesitant to try Bindi. i know that makes no sense since most sushi places are run by Koreans and not Japanese and it’s the food that matters not where the owners or chef are from. However, I look forward to a Spanish place to grab a late night small plate(I got the memeo about not using the T word) and some wine.

    • I am sad. We loves Bindi, without trying to classify what it was or was not, the food exploded flavor in your mouth. I wish Valerie and Marci the best and business is business, but…just sayin

  • Ben

    This makes me sad! I love Bindi. It’s the only upscale Indian restaurant in the area. This closing leaves a huge hole in Philadelphia’s food scene. And Philadelphia is not lacking in Spanish wine bars. I do think Bindi wrestled with the perception that the food was not “authentic” Indian. This is unfortunate, because the food was truly excellent and the restaurant served great modern interpretations of classic dishes. For some reason, many people view this as acceptable for other types of cuisines, but not Indian. Alas.

  • lilpit

    I liked Bindi but I can’t complain – I definitely didn’t eat there as much as I should have, given that I really liked the food & service. The BYOB, no CC thing is off-putting to me. I also won’t complain because a Spanish small plates joint by Safron/Turney that serves booze & takes CC’s is something to look forward to.

  • Dan

    Wow exactly what this city needs another “small plates” wine bar with charcuterie.

  • lilpit

    Tashan is opening soon so we won’t be without upscale Indian for long.

    @Dan – given Turney’s track record, do you really think that your description is all this will be? And if it is, and it’s a success, then I guess the answer to your question would be yes.

  • Jay

    lilpit, why exactly is byo such a turnoff to you? I view it as a feature, not a bug. I like Barbuzzo, don’t get me wrong, but paying 3 or 4x on a wine that sells for 13 bucks at the liquor store is nauseating. That’s 39 bucks I could pay to better/more food.

  • James T

    I am so sad that Bindi is shutting. I have been going there since it opened and it has been the home of so many good and fond memories (dinners with friends and family). I had my first date with my fiancée there and it was also the first meal we had after I proposed. I suppose we will have to make one last venture before it closes its doors.

  • Dan

    I guess this is an interesting concept for those that are not amubulatory. The byline should read “For those that think walking to Tria, Valanni, Garces Trading Co. and Vintage is just to dang far…”

  • Maha

    the conclusion of the article is so true,”.. people’s perception of Indian food is limited”. It really is..especially in this city, where Chicken Tikka Masala and saag Paneer is touted as the epitome of Indian cuisine.What a shame that they are changing their fantastic take on this cuisine because of a broken business model!!

  • KwikEMart

    Hey, Hey, This Is Not A Lending Library! If You’re Not Going To Buy That Thing, Put It Down Or I’ll Blow Your Heads Off

  • lilpit

    @Dan – which of those places is Spanish cuisine?

    @Jay – I like to be treated like an adult, walk into a place put my money down and buy a drink. It’s part of the restaurant experience for me and having to dive into the logistics (sometimes simple, sometimes not) of BYOB just doesn’t interest me. I’m happy for you that you like it. I don’t.

  • Jay

    I have no idea why you decided to imply that I’m a child by liking BYO’s. I may be cheap, but I’m not a child. You probably like bottled water as opposed to tap or Brita. That’s cool.

  • lilpit

    I wasn’t implying that you’re a child, sorry for the misunderstanding if you took it that way. Seriously. Like I said, if you like BYOB that’s great for you. I don’t.
    I drink tap water at restaurants. Saves me a little money to pay for my drinks :)

  • Red Stripe

    People’s perception of Indian Food is limited? In that not many of us want to pay more for something that is not as good?

    I like that the insight earned from 10 years of restauranteuring is not “oops, we misjudged,” but rather “other people are to blame.”

  • Mark

    I will miss Thali Tuesdays

  • lilpit

    Been thinking about this and it’s possible that upscale Indian, while it might be nice when you want it, is not a viable concept. In NYC, the only one of Danny Meyer’s restaurants to ever close was Tabla, his upscale Indian, which was great, but the problem is you only get in the mood for that every 6 months and it just couldn’t sustain it’s success even though it was had great food.

  • harold

    does anyone else think its wrong to have an upscale version of a cuisine from a third world country?

  • Tex

    @ Harold, not at all. There are plenty of upscale Spanish and Italian places.

  • elanya

    Ugh…I love Bindi!!! What is wrong with tourists? You don’t get the whole BYOB concept or Indian food? Boooooooo

  • barryg

    @Harold, Indian cuisine is one of the most sophisticated and complex in the world.. as Tex says, it makes more sense than upscale Spanish, Italian, Greek if you think about. Those cuisines are much simpler in comparison.

  • Misu

    One of Bindi’s recipes was just featured in Bon Appetit, too. Really surprised by this.

  • barryg

    @Elanya, tourists (many of which are attending conferences) don’t mosey down to 13th St with a bottle of wine/liquor and they want to pay with credit cards.

  • EveNYC

    Jamon me baby! Me encanta el jamooooooonnnn

  • mr

    I wish someone would open a true Spanish bar- one that give free tapas with all drinks as is supposed to be, not one that gouges customers for a $8 small plate.

  • Food E

    I posit that Bindi did not fail because of people’s limited acceptance of Indian food, but because Bindi wasn’t an Indian restaurant at all. Just because you use some Indian spices and use an Indian word in your name, doesn’t make you an Indian restaurant. I ate there when it first opened and never went back because it WASN’T Indian food. A good, contemporary Indian restaurant would, in fact, complement the Philly food scene — even in that space.

  • J

    Oh no! Bindi is a gem! I love their Thali Tuesdays. It’s a reinterpretation of Indian food with seasonal ingredients. We have plenty of traditional classic Indian restaurants/take out. We also don’t need another Spanish tapas bar…

  • cleevus

    bindi was good. but not busy enough. and this biz is not a charity, thats for certain. they could probably half fill the space on barbuzzo overflow alone. not many people in philly, or many other places in the states, has a desire to eat indian food. too many stereotypes. as soon as the taco bell of indian food opens, it will remain that way.

  • Sheetal

    Love love love Bindi, I am sorry that people did not appreciate what Marci and Valerie are doing and sorry to see it go. It is a truly different cuisine than the typical oil adn butter laden saag-paneers and tikka masalas. I do hope they continue to offer some of their inventive Indian-fusion recipes from Bindi at Grocery.

  • cucinasaporita

    I can honestly say my heart sank the moment I saw this tweeted last week…Bindi is one of my favorite restaurants-ever. Marcie and Valerie created such an inventive and refreshing approach to Indian Cuisine. My friends and I plan our schedules around Thali Tuesday. While I have no doubt Jamonera will be a success, I’m so sad to see the end of Bindi. I’d love to their mouth-watering parantha show up I Grocery:)

  • Oh how I crave Bindi’s food; what will I do when it is gone?. I absolutely love the exciting flavors, light use of oils/ghee, and vibrant colors that arrive with each plate at this neighborhood Gem. I love bringing a German Riesling(one of the most underrated wines in the world) and noticing how well it pairs with each and every course. I enjoy each sauce, chutney, spice and dip….a true exploration of flavors. Most Indian food is heavy on the Ghee, overly rich, and sauces too glutinous for my palate, but Bindi got it all just right.

    And when they kicked-up the spice a notch or two for the more adventurous palates, the kitchen would present dazzling dishes that made your tongue sting with joy! Bindi I will miss you. But I promise one last visit you before you disappear into the land of sardines and Sangria on Sept 24th. Thank you Marcie and Valarie! May I put in a request for a Bindi Cookbook….please?

  • m

    The problem wasn’t that people don’t get Indian food. It’s that people don’t want to pay out the ass for tiny amounts of it when you can go somewhere not as “cute”, pay half as much and not walk out hungry…especially in Philly.
    Do it right, like Rasika in DC.

  • Cool Beanies

    Rasika does it indeed sell upscale Indian food well, but coming from DC specifically to eat at Bindi for my birthday weekend I was HEARTBROKEN to hear the announcement on Bindi’s voicemail that they were turning into a Spanish restaurant. When I last tasted their food I had thought to myself that Bindi’s food was better than Rasika’s and that they provided more generous helpings. I will have to look into Tashan now. Very sad to hear of Bindi’s demise.