Making the Light Grow

The idea for Sathyan Gopalan’s Indian-Italian fusion restaurant, eDESIa, could be traced back over a decade, to when he traveled through Italy and Europe with his vegetarian sensibilities, limited fluency in the Italian language, and a jar of his mother’s spicy tomato chutney in hand. No matter where he was, he could always order some pasta, mix it with the chutney, and have a tasty meal.

As Gopalan was seeking out his next venture in Nashville, he kept coming back to the idea of an Indian-Italian restaurant concept.

“We were pretty sure no one is doing this, so why not try it?” says the general manager, seasoned hospitality pro, businessman, and philanthropist.

Over the summer, Gopalan and his business partners, including Manan Jobalia, a first generation Indian-American raised in Nashville, transformed the former Rumours East space at 1112 Woodland St. into eDESIa, an “affordable high-end” restaurant serving shankara grits masala and pasta curry, where you can order an affordable bottle of wine, and kids eat free. And yes, his mother’s chutney is incorporated into several dishes.

The eDESIa (pronounced e-day-sia) team chose the restaurant’s name as an homage to the Roman goddess of food, who presided over banquets, ensuring the feast went well and the food was excellent.

“We try to offer love in our food,” Gopalan says, sipping on a Dr. Pepper with salt and lemon, as fluffy focaccia and creamy gnocchi are served. And the staff he has built, “I see them as an extended family. . . we have an excellent team right now.”

eDESIa may be a new endeavor for Gopalan, but his desire to be in East Nashville is not new. Ever since he landed in Nashville in 2007, he “always had an eye over here,” he says. He knew he wanted to invest in East Nashville, a neighborhood that was “open and welcoming to anyone.”

So far, eDESIa has had “beautiful support from neighbors in the community,” but Gopalan and his team are still building a regular clientele. “This takes time. We’re not in a hurry,” he says. Early Google and Yelp reviews are overwhelmingly positive, which has been a boost for business. If all goes well, Gopalan and company might expand the small kitchen and offer more Indian-centric dishes on the menu.

The back patio, which “we know is a goldmine,” Gopalan says, still needs some TLC to ensure it is completely safe and enjoyable for guests. Future plans also include adding a stage for music and additional landscaping.

While growing eDESIa’s business, Gopalan is also keeping an eye on his endeavors in Tiruvannamalai, India, including boutique hotel Sunshine Guest House and the Global Watch Foundation Children’s Home, currently home to 19 young Indian orphans.

When he first encountered the orphans at the Children’s Home, they were living in a dark, dingy space that wasn’t allowing them to thrive. He and his ex-wife, Corrine Champigny, began volunteering, ultimately taking over the financial and legal responsibilities for the orphanage by starting the foundation.

“What I didn’t get in life, I wanted to share with others,” says Gopalan, who grew up in nearby Chennai, India, the youngest of 10 children, raised in cramped quarters that weren’t “really a proper place to live.”

Now, with Gopalan’s support, the Children’s Home has moved to a three-acre farm where they have cows, chickens, an organic garden, clean water, access to computers and medical care. The children, who formerly slept on the concrete floor with straw mats as beds, now have bunk beds with real mattresses and pillows.

A team of caretakers, teachers, tutors, volunteers and donors from India and the U.S. supports this 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. “When we share what we have, it makes the light grow more inside you,” says Gopalan.

Wherever in the world Gopalan is offering hospitality, whether in East Nashville or rural India, he remains committed to his personal mantra: “Always, everyone’s happiness first and before mine, that is my happiness.”

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