Sona was Goyal’s first foray into the restaurant business following a career in marketing, which he described as an industry with a strong LGBTQ community. This has not been his experience in the food industry so far, where he says he has not encountered many other gay restaurant owners. He is not sure why this is the case but noted it can be intimidating to deal with some of the old-fashioned firms restaurateurs need to work with to secure financing and space.
“Thankfully, we’re in New York City. There’s a general sense that being open-minded in business dealings is the way of the city,” he said. “But I can imagine if you’re in other parts of the country, it is a little off-putting because people are questioning your concept or questioning, if you’re going to do it, what kind of crowd you’re going to bring in.”
It was also intimidating to open a new restaurant during the pandemic. Goyal broke ground on Sona in January 2020, but Covid brought the process to a screeching halt soon after, forcing him to reevaluate how to keep the project alive.
The team was ultimately still able to open the restaurant, but its debut was not what Goyal had initially hoped for.
“You’re super ecstatic to open a restaurant, but when we opened, we could only have 30% indoor occupancy. Nobody could sit at the bar,” he said. “It wasn’t the restaurant that we had dreamed about opening in terms of the experience.”
Goyal is happy that he jumped into the hospitality industry with an Indian restaurant, and although it is not the first one in New York, it does pay tribute to his father’s former restaurant in Texas.
“We honor it with a dish on our menu: Our buttered chicken is named India House’s buttered chicken,” he said. “It’s been mighty personal, the experience of being a first-time restaurateur and being a gay restaurateur.”