By Dhananji Rathnayake
Portland was quiet on Labor Day weekend, with many people out of the city taking a break over the long weekend. But Iqbal and Ali Hussain, brothers from Bangladesh, were hard at work at their restaurant, India Palace, located at 565 Congress Street. The brothers said that even on the holiday they were busy. In fact, business was up some. Nonetheless, they found time to share a little of their story.
“We are from Bangladesh,” Iqbal Hussain explained. “Me and my brother have run this restaurant since 2021. My father and his friend started this restaurant 20 years ago, but then it was run by another owner until 2021 when I bought it.”
Iqbal Hussain is the elder son of the family. His father Kazi Hussain came to the U.S. thanks to a Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (Green Card Lottery) and earned citizenship 30 years ago. He lived first in Indiana and then settled in Portland in 2000. That was when he brought the whole family to Maine. At the time, Iqbal was 13 years old and his brother Ali was 5 years old.
The multi-generational family lives together in Scarborough, and the brothers said they are the only family in Portland from Bangladesh. They have their own vehicle. Kazi Hussain and his wife help run the restaurant.
“I’m the chef here, but you know my Amu (mother) and Abu (father) both are good advisors to us … I’m glad of my parents. We are here because of them. Without them, we can’t reach our goals. We have to make them proud. Our mission is to be the best Muslim Indian restaurant in Portland. We always follow our culture and religion. We do not serve alcohol in here [however] customers can bring alcohol from outside and enjoy our meals,” Iqbal said with a big smile.
Ali said that he and his brother keep an eye both on who frequents the restaurant and on the menu offerings. They know which foods and drinks are most popular with their customers: “We are making Indian and Bangladeshi foods. The most popular menu items are Chicken Tikka Masala, Butter Chicken, and salads. The most popular beverage item is Mango Lassi. Asian and white people both are our customers, but we are very careful when dealing with Indian customers because they expect authentic tastes of Indian foods from us,” Ali said.
The restaurant is financially stable. But, as extra income, Iqbal has a vending machine business, with units in 16 locations in Portland. He likes to keep busy, he said. And the focus of the brothers at this point is business, they said, not romance. “Business, not girls!” Iqbal said. The brothers are in their twenties.
India Palace sells gift cards and also participates in programs that offer free food for unhoused people.
“We love this city and we love these people. They are nice and very respectful. We are very happy to serve them with delicious foods!” Iqbal said, as darkness began to fall. “Tonight will be very busy,” he predicted, as the door opened and another customer entered. “We’ve had over 40 takeout orders already today!”