By Don Bolding

Killeen Daily Herald

As Killeen grows, its people are finding ways to fill in some gaps in the culture that wouldn't be gaps in small towns.

For years, there's been no lack of places to eat out, but choices were mostly limited to American food, Chinese and Mexican. Lately, growing demand has been matched by capabilities of military families with members from all over the world, and dozens of people are trying their hand with Korean, Central American, Pacific island and other cuisine. This year, the city got its first Indian restaurant through channels that had nothing directly to do with Fort Hood, and managers say things are going great, as if latent demand had been here from time immemorial.

The Red Onion Indian Bistro opened last month at 1908 E. Central Texas Expressway, and Niru Patel, manager of the establishment with her husband Ashok, said all sorts of people have been coming from a 150-mile radius. Customers come not only from the substantial local Indian community and military personnel, with exotic appetites whetted all over the world, but from Temple, Waco and Round Rock.

The people from Waco already want the Patels to start a restaurant there, and Patel says that's a possibility in the future. "People coming from Round Rock say it's easier to get to us than to Indian restaurants in Austin," she said. So Killeen is becoming a Travis County destination.

The Patels, originally from Gujrat province in India, became restaurateurs in London before moving to Houston, where they had four restaurants at different times in between stints operating convenience stores. Several years ago, several people from Killeen found them, including the unrelated Patel family already here.

Patel is a very common name," she said. "We found that the family here originated in the same province, but far away from us. India is a very big country."

"They said to call them if we ever wanted to try Killeen," she said. "My husband and I wanted to leave the city about two years ago, and they found an ideal location. We liked it, and we started working on it."

Now they consider themselves semi-retired, but they may stay in the present location until the lease is up and build a new restaurant. After that, they may consider opening one in Waco and possibly extending to Austin. Niru has also been a residential real estate agent and is completing courses to renew her license.

With 32 years in the restaurant business, the Patels were able to build an extensive menu. The establishment, already a member of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, has been drawing rave reviews on the Internet. "We were cautious about starting business in a smaller town," Niru said, "but the move has been an excellent one. We've been received so well. We're happy to be here, and looking forward to all we can do."

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