While some local restaurants and food trucks are expanding into larger storefronts, Mela Indian Restaurant is opting for quite a different strategy; The 10-year-old eatery is opening a mini version of its downtown business on UNC Asheville’s campus, and Mela Eats (the campus brand) will begin serving to students and visitors on Friday, Aug. 14.
“The idea is to provide hot, fresh, home-cooked meals to people on the go,” says Mela Eats operations manager Julie Loveless. “As a UNCA alumna and a gluten-free vegan, I am well aware of the shortage of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options on campus. I constantly found myself venturing out for meals that would accommodate my dietary needs and restrictions. I saw that the traditional Indian cuisine from Mela — which is inherently gluten-free and plant-based by design — could fill that niche at UNCA.”
Mela’s cuisine, which focuses on local, seasonal produce and cage-, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, will be available in the Highsmith Student Union. Loveless calls the new space “a relatively small establishment with an impressive kitchen,” adding that the eatery will offer counter service and shared seating nearby. All of the authentic fare will be served in recyclable or compostable containers to comply with UNCA’s sustainability policies.
“We have been working tirelessly over the past several weeks to train our new UNCA staff,” Loveless says. “Our talented kitchen staff will be preparing our chutneys, our breads, and our curry sauces on-site. Students, staff, faculty and the public,will be able to find a variety of vegan dishes and one chicken dish every day accompanied by our renowned basmati rice, gluten-free uttapam, a choice of salads, a selection of chutneys and the option of including a refreshing Mango Lassi or spicy Chai Tea.”
Loveless says she approached Krisi Freshour, UNCA’s director of retail dining services for Compass, with the proposal regarding Mela Eats last August, after being heavily involved in the university’s food scene during her years as a student.
“The idea was met with unprecedented enthusiasm from the entire dining services staff,” Loveless says, “and we’ve been working toward this grand opening ever since.”
Loveless, who is married to owner Anoop Krishnan, credits her husband’s family with much of Mela’s success, adding that the new location is more than just a business milestone.
“The recipes come from Anoop’s late mother, who operated a small café out of [the family’s] home in Malaysia,” she says, “and our little restaurant in this little mountain town — on the other side of the world — is her legacy.”
“We at Mela are very excited to be on campus,” Krishnan adds. “We are a small, locally owned, family business and are excited to have been given this opportunity to be a part of the university’s dining experience. … All of our spices are sourced from India, and our chefs are Indian as well, so the level of authenticity is as if the food was made in India.”