Surrounded by autobody shops and sitting on what is possibly the worst-kept road in Queens, the factory at 127-40 Willets Point Blvd. does not bring to mind cozy Indian restaurants.
But for thousands of customers across the United States, the Willets Point factory, known as the House of Spices, is one of the countrys great sources of authentic South Asian food.
Selling products which vary from pickled carrots to beans to, of course, spices, House of Spices is the nations largest importer, manufacturer and distributor of Indian food, according to its founder and owner, Gordhandas L. Soni.
For Soni running the factory is his version of the American dream.
After immigrating to the United States from southern Indian in 1964, Soni settled in New York when he completed two years at North Dakota State University.
Once I decided to come to America, I said as long as I go there, Im going to live and prosper in New York, the world capital, Soni said.
While working as a civil engineer, Soni noticed a distinct lack of Indian food products in the city.
We couldnt get a good product, he said. There was only one small store in Manhattan, and it was owned by an Armenian guy.
In 1970, Soni opened a store in Jackson Heights, which imported foodstuffs from India. Since then, he has moved the business to Long Island City, Richmond Hill, Hunts Point in the Bronx, and finally to its current location. As it moved, House of Spices grew from a store to a factory.
About seven years ago, when the business moved from Hunts Point, it expanded from 45,000 to 110,000 square feet.
The factory, which employs about 90 people, ships directly to stores and restaurants as well as to six facilities in Washington, D.C., Orlando, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which in turn distribute the goods to regional businesses.
House of Spices also owns and operates several businesses in the metropolitan area, including Shamania, a restaurant at 42-27 Main St. in downtown Flushing.
Although he said all of his products are tasty, Soni called Besan, or flour made from chick peas, his pride and joy.
I guarantee that people in India cannot get a better product than this, he said, adding that customers could have the flour in their homes within 48 hours after it was made.
Soni said many Americans had misconceptions about Indian food..
It is 100 percent healthy, said Soni, who is a vegetarian. From ounce to ounce, the beans that we are eating have more protein than the red meat you are eating.
Like many American businesses, House of Spices has taken a hit in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. While sales have remained strong, increased customs security by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made it more difficult for Houses of Spices, which imports from around the world.
Soni said the USDA often held onto his products for days.
They have the right to inspect. They should inspect, but they dont know what the hell they are doing, he said.
Although both city and state officials have talked about trying to condemn the businesses in Willets Point, known as the Iron Triangle, in order to open the area up to shopping and possibly a hotel, Soni said he was not worried about the fate of his own operation.
He said the government had been very supportive of his business, granting House of Spices tax incentives when it moved to Willets Point.
Soni added that U.S. laws have always been friendly toward his business.
What I have done here, I dont think I could have done it anywhere else in the world, he said.
To order from House of Spices, call 506-4600 or visit the Web site, www.hosindia.com.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.
©2002 Community News Group
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