Diamonds, they say, are forever. And the Indian restaurant New Delhi Diamond’s is living up to its namesake, tallying up its 26th anniversary this year.
The Green Street sit-down was Ithaca’s second Indian restaurant when Baldev Singh Sekhon, his sister, and her husband it opened it together in 1993. Back then, a wall separated out a bar and a smaller sit-down area.
“We never thought we would go this long, but people's love,” Baldev said before Kamaldeep Kaur Sekhon, his wife, chimed in.
“Their love and support has kept us going,” she said. After marrying in India in 1995, Kamaldeep joined her husband in managing the restaurant.
The two first lived in New York City for a while, and bounced around the country a bit before settling in central New York. Ithaca was friendlier, cleaner and safer than NYC, Baldev noted. And, he said, Ithaca’s parking tickets were cheaper, too: just $3 to New York’s $30.
The restaurant started as a modest business venture.
“The first three years were...so-so,” Baldev remembers.
Newspaper and television advertisements were the main publicity methods, but both were too expensive at the time. The restaurant relied on word-of-mouth endorsements, and so Baldev, who studied economics, and Kamaldeep, who studied sociology, combined their knowledge to focus on maintaining their food’s quality and reliability.
Most of their recipes are sourced from home, with time-honored formulas brought along from Punjab, India. The dishes themselves haven’t changed too much over time, although some entrees are officially added to the menu after being vetted by a trial run with the buffet crowd. Even some customers have stayed the same.
Around 15 or 20 years ago, Baldev said, a band of college-aged kids came to Diamond’s and enjoyed themselves so often that they cooked up a song in honor of the channa masala. Even now, one former band member still swings by the restaurant, accompanied not by his bandmates, but by his three kids.
“Most of them are regular customers,” Kamaldeep said. “That's why we survived, actually.”
The overall demand, though, has changed a bit, Kamaldeep noted. Now, there’s more people asking for vegetarian and vegan dishes, and due to the price of meat, Diamond’s has abandoned beef dishes altogether. Evidently, the adaptations have paid off, as the restaurant won the Ithaca Times’ “Best Lunch Buffet” Award in 2010 and 2018.
The restaurant’s involvement in the community goes beyond its daily buffet, though. It has catered meals for different events at Cornell, like iftars during the month of Ramadan and meals for different student events. It also caters weddings and holidays for other communities in Ithaca and Corning.
Although the restaurant is pretty stable now—Baldev doesn’t anticipate any big changes on the horizon—the couple wasn’t always confident that things would work out.
“You never knew,” Kamaldeep said. “Will it work out or not? [...] We work hard. We pray to god. I don't know how we get success.”