Opening a home Indian restaurant in Riverside rescued this mother from darkness

Cooking naan in an iron skillet
Kulwant “Kimi” Sanghu, chef at Cali Tardka home restaurant, makes an order of naan in Riverside.
(Paul Rodriguez / For The Times)

The mother-and-son duo behind Riverside’s Cali Tardka took a much-needed day off from their home Punjabi restaurant in late June after a long week. In addition to preparing to-go orders of their most popular dishes like chicken tikka masala fries, butter chicken and samosas, Kulwant “Kimi” Sanghu and Manu Sanghu had filmed hours-long shoots for CBS and Tastemade segments.

Over the last couple years, the family has made a name for themselves as guests on TV shows such as “Good Morning America,” “Access Hollywood” and “The Jennifer Hudson Show.” They’ve shared their heartfelt story about how launching Cali Tardka as a licensed home restaurant helped them bounce back from the brink of homelessness. Customers now travel from as far as San Diego and Las Vegas to try their battered and fried masala fish and chicken tikka masala burritos wrapped in naan bread. The family has served celebrities such as Rashida Jones, Russell Peters and Mario Lopez.

The mother and son have long dreamed of owning a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, but it was only in the last few months that it seemed like a viable possibility. Looking for a location, they hope to open a takeout spot in 2025.


Kulwant "Kimi" Sanghu, left, with her son Manu in the living room of their home in Riverside.
Kulwant “Kimi” Sanghu, left, with her son Manu in the living room of their home in Riverside. Their home restaurant has become very popular and has regular customers from all over California and out of state.
(Paul Rodriguez / For The Times)

At the heart of the business is the matriarch and chef, Kimi, who underwent a personal transformation as a result of opening Cali Tardka. Once meek and rudderless, she now describes herself as confident and a “boss lady.”

“Mom’s always been a hustler,” says Manu, 22. “She’s like, ‘Let your business talk.’ You’re never going to see us on social media being like, ‘We’re the best at this or that.’ All we’ve been doing is just grinding.”

This hustle mentality has been a cornerstone in Kimi’s life, keeping her family afloat as she has struggled with financial insecurity for decades as an Indian immigrant stuck in unsteady, minimum-wage jobs. Prior to 2018, when Cali Tardka first materialized, Kimi was constantly worried about paying her mortgage after having previously lost two other homes.

Her husband, Avtar Sanghu, was laid off from his job at a smoke shop five years ago. Kimi recalled the long drives home from work as a technician at an Anaheim medical scopes company as being painful. As soon as Kimi would get on the freeway, she’d call her husband for updates on job prospects. “He’d say ‘no’ and I’d just hang up the phone and I’d cry, every single day,” says Kimi, 50.


An order of Naan is readied at Cali Tardka home restaurant in Riverside.
(Paul Rodriguez / For The Times)

Manu suggested Kimi sell her samosas as a way to make ends meet, and he built a social media presence for their budding new business. Their menu and customer base grew. Kimi would come home after her full-time job to start cooking. After school, Manu and his sister, Pardeep Sanghu, would handle grocery shopping and kitchen preparations.

Four months in, when Kimi began feeling a glimmer of hope, a Department of Public Health representative told her she needed to shut down Cali Tardka because she was operating without a license. It was soul-crushing news for Kimi, but she was hopeful again when she heard that Riverside County would be the first county to adopt the new California Assembly Bill 626, which allowed for home kitchens to operate as food facilities. After what had been an excruciating eight-month wait for Kimi, Cali Tardka became one of the first licensed home restaurants in July 2019.

“I was on the top of the world … like I won the lotto,” says Kimi.

Kimi Sanghu fills a samosa that will then be deep fried.
(Paul Rodriguez / For The Times)

The day they went viral

Manu had been attending Anaheim’s Bethesda University on a basketball scholarship, but quietly dropped out in December 2020. Kimi didn’t find out until months later. His passion for the family business was all-consuming, and he was learning how to market it from watching YouTube videos.


That drive led him to reach out to Greg Simms, a KRTH-FM (101.1) radio host who also runs the food TikTok account @GrubWithGreg. “I just started having all my cousins spam him and be like, ‘Go to Cali Tardka,’” says Manu. “After a whole week of bugging him, he was like, ‘Hey, guys, let me come by.’”

In August 2021, Simms posted the video, which shows him grabbing his to-go order from the Sanghu house and eating it on the roof of his car, with Kimi eagerly watching for his reactions in the background.

It went viral.

In less than a day, the video hit 1 million views, the most Simms had received at the time. “I knew there was something special about them, just their presence and joy, who they are and the passion for what they’re doing,” says Simms.

Things began falling into place for the Sanghu family. Media started producing stories on Cali Tardka. As a way to further grow the business, Manu began reaching out to celebrities and influencers, offering to drive to L.A. and bring them free food. The family continued to do this every weekend for a year and a half. “That’s when we started getting a good fan base … and it started getting consistent,” says Manu.

Manu Sanghu of Cali Tardka home restaurant runs out to the curb to deliver an order to a waiting customer.
Manu Sanghu of Cali Tardka home restaurant runs out to the curb to deliver an order to a waiting customer in Riverside. Customers can order by phone or text and pick up their order curbside at the home restaurant.
(Paul Rodriguez / For The Times)


Plans for a restaurant

The food at Cali Tardka is a labor of love. Everything is made from scratch. They roll out fresh dough for the handmade samosas, toast and blend all their spices, and hand-pick tamarind pods for the chutney. There’s a modern twist to their Punjabi food, like their hand-cut fries that are seasoned with a tikka masala spice mix and topped with chicken tikka masala curry, a play on Manu’s love for al pastor fries. They also serve mango lassi in a pouch as a nostalgic nod to Capri Sun.

Kimi is a self-taught cook who recalls making dal, a lentil soup, for the first time when she was 12 and living in the small village of Biharipur in northern India. At the time, her grandfather owned a popular restaurant, Laher Sweet Shop, where droves of customers lined up for his chole bhature (a chickpea curry with fluffy fried bread) and desserts.

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It wasn’t until Kimi was in her early 20s and immigrated with her family to the United States in 1992 that she even learned how to cook non-vegetarian dishes. Kimi credits YouTube with teaching her the bulk of what she knows today. She dreamed of cooking for a living.

Chicken tikka masala fries offered at Cali Tardka home restaurant in Riverside.
(Paul Rodriguez / For The Times)

Kulwant "Kimi" Sanghu, left, rolls out the dough for samosas while her son Manu fills the folded dough in their kitchen.
Kimi Sanghu rolls out the dough for samosas while her son Manu fills the folded dough in their kitchen.
(Paul Rodriguez / For The Times)


But Kimi held herself back for years, saying she subconsciously followed her mother’s footsteps as a wife who stayed quiet and was subservient to her husband. “She was behind my dad all the time,” recalls Manu. “Two years ago, she wouldn’t even be talking at all and would keep looking at me, being like, ‘What should I say?’ And I’m like, ‘No, you have your own voice. You have your own persona. Talk about yourself.’”

Five years into the business, Kimi says she is happy and feels empowered as the head chef while Manu wears many hats as marketing and social media manager and fry cook. His sister is in Minnesota at medical school. With the money they made from Cali Tardka, they were able to invest in a small trucking business for Avtar.

Kimi credits her children for helping her get to this new chapter in her life. “The kids bring me out of my shell,” she says. “They see what I have inside and that’s why they make me do what I want to do [which is to] cook. I was always thinking, ‘I want to do something big, that people will know me.’”

Cali Tardka Samosas

Time 1 hour 55 minutes
Yields Makes 12 samosas