Recently, when I learned that the Williamstown Motel had changed hands, I was concerned that Spice Root Indian Restaurant might have also. After all, both were owned by Tarun Narula, who came to town more than decade ago to take a chance on an ethnic restaurant in a small Berkshires town.
Narula never sat on his hands. After five years of making Spice Root one of the region's most respected exotic eateries, he branched out, bought the formerly decaying motor inn on Route 2, and in a little less than five years changed the name, invested heavily in its infrastructure, and finally turned around its reputation.
At a time when the economy was dragging down everyone, Narula saw opportunity through hard work. But after another door opened for yet another Indian restaurant startup in Connecticut, Narula, ever the entrepreneur, decided to keep the his family's business focus in the food service arena, and not stretch themselves too thin.
Narula, who emigrated to the U.S. from India 17 years ago, is now an American citizen. He and his wife Simi, a registered nurse and former Hoosac Valley High School chemistry teacher, came to Williamstown to start a family. After managing and partnering in restaurants in New York and Connecticut, Narula saw potential on Spring Street and Spice Root is now a mainstay. In 2005, the Williamstown eatery received a nod by the New York Times, no small feat.
Such achievement is rooted in the same ethos that brought my grandfather here from Greece a century ago with a thirdgrade education and six dimes in his pocket. Eventually, he built a thriving floral business, and saw all three of his children - one of them my mother - go on to college and careers in business, engineering, and medicine.
Narula is cut of the same mold; he believes that complacency is the fuel that drives us to failure. As American as the rest of us, he hit on something essential to our national character: We are a people of initiative, and typically do not stand pat waiting for others to do something for us. It holds particularly true in small businesses - which still provide the majority of our employment.
Of course this sounds simplistic. Yet in my last conversation with Tarun, he was looking past the sale of the motel and remained upbeat about his new venture in Connecticut, as well as continuing to enhance the Spice Root venue, now run by narula protégé general manager Steven Lawrence and his assistant Dhruba Bandari.
All of these activities stem from an overarching purpose: To keep Narula's staffs employed, and to stimulate reinvestment in the infrastructures of his two venues.
Tarun hasn't forgotten his own recent past, and feels a responsibility to those under his aegis. They, like him, chose America as a place of hope over their own native lands. Here, with hard work, they have a real chance to build a life. And in Tarun and Simi - who has always helped manage parts of the family businesses - they can't ask for better role models.
Yes, Narula is just one case, but his point is well taken: You can sit back, wring your hands and claim doom and gloom until it becomes self-defeating, or you can do something about your destiny before it runs roughshod over you - and those who look up to you.
Tarun has chosen the latter. He understands that, as an American, it all has to start from each individual making a decision to do whatever it takes, even swallow pride. Tarun has paid plenty of past dues washing dishes in numerous kitchens. Yet even now, as an owner, when he is up in Williamstown for the weekend, it's not beneath him to take an order, bus a table, help with cooking, or take out the trash.
With employees and family depending on his leadership, he isn't waiting for a bailout. Rather, Narula is taking whatever action is possible. There's a boss who has the respect, loyalty, and gratitude of everyone on his staff.
And exactly the type of business ethic Williamstown should want to continue attracting and retaining.
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. E-mail:email@example.com.