Poonam Maini was 17, in college in India, when her mom delivered some news that shook the teenager's world: A teenage boy was coming over to meet her in a potential arranged marriage. If he and his family liked Poonam, who wanted to be a lawyer, she would have to marry him.
In 10 days.
Maini went through with the arranged marriage. It was the start of a life odyssey that has taken her from her native Punjab, India, to Sarasota. More bumps would be forthcoming, centered on what Maini says was a physically and mentally abusive marriage that lasted 18 years.
Today, Maini, 46, runs a thriving Indian food restaurant, Tandoor Fine Indian Cuisine, in fast-growing east Manatee County. Affable and outgoing, Maini says her hospitality skills are self-taught, a product born of the desperation of a single mom with three kids, no alimony or child support — and a will to be better.
Maini also recently added a new title to her worklife: nonprofit founder. In April she launched an organization, Share.Care.Global, which raises funds and promotes programs for women, children and families in poverty and need, both in India and Florida. A core aspect of Share.Care.Global is 10% of all gross sales at Tandoor are donated to the organization.
It's an unusual step for an independent restaurant owner in a fickle, low-margin business bombarded with challenges, from labor costs to food expenses to teenage employees. It's also an unusually high amount of proceeds to give to charity, instead of a onetime event, such as a celebrity bartender night.
Maini says annual sales at Tandoor are in the high six figures, and she expects to give at least $90,000 a year to her nonprofit. “I know it's a lot of money,” Maini says, “but I'm blessed I don't have a lot of debt.”
The area philanthropic community has noticed Maini's zeal. “She does things full steam ahead,” says Manatee Community Foundation Executive Director Susie Bowie. “She's someone who just gets things done.”
Share.Care.Global, after a May 4 debut event, has already built a women and children's shelter in the village where Maini was raised. The facility provides two meals a day and health care and education services.
Closer to home, Maini is preparing to unveil My Care Bag. Each bag, custom-made by women in India who are hired for the work, will include hygiene and toiletry items, in addition to an inspirational message. The bags are gifts for homeless women and women at the Safe Place Rape and Crisis Center (SPARCC) of Sarasota and HOPE Family Services.
Share.Care.Global, says Maini, stems from 2001, when she first opened Tandoor and faced a long road of obstacles. Back then it was in south Sarasota, near Clark Road and U.S. 41. Maini recalls opening night was a near disaster — she felt unprepared for the crowd. “I was nearly pulling my hair out,” Maini says. “I was scared to go into the dining room because I thought people would yell at me.”
The 40-seat restaurant eventually found its way. It developed a reputation for combining Southern hospitality with authentic Indian food. Customers from Naples to Tampa, in addition to dozens of regulars, now come for the Butter Chicken, Lamb Saag and vegan Baingan Bharta. Maini moved locations in 2013 to the current home, in a shopping center across the street from The Mall at the University Town Center.
The early days of the new location were tough — just like 2001. Maini recalls working seven straight days, 11 hours a day. She took naps in a room behind a curtain off the main dining room during slow times. The University location is double the size of the old place, says Maini, and sales are up fivefold since the move.
“I'm so thankful for all I've been given,” says Maini. “What I'm doing now (with Share.Care.Global) gives me so much inner peace.”
Share.Care.Global, a nonprofit aid organization founded by area restaurateur Poonam Maini, is hosting an awareness and fundraising event this fall.
The Share.Care.Global Gala — An Evening in India, is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m. at BMW of Sarasota, 5151 Clark Road, Sarasota. General admission tickets are $150 and VIP tickets are $250. For more information, call (941) 266-8089 or email [email protected]