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From the Supreme Court to the Food Court

Beverly Hills sees its first fast food Indian eatery from an unlikely restaurateur.

He isn’t your average restaurant owner. With a law degree from Harvard, he’s not even your average attorney. As one of Beverly Hills’ newest restaurateurs, Peter Stris has introduced the city to , a fast, healthy and casual Indian food eatery.

Six years ago, Stris, now 35, found himself standing in front of the United States Supreme Court. He was there to argue his first case before the nation's highest judicial body. At the time, Stris was a partner at a boutique law firm where he was developing a specialized practice litigating major cases involving the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), a landmark federal statute governing all employer-provided healthcare and retirement plans. It is an extraordinarily complex area of law in which Stris has become a highly respected expert. In fact, our meeting took place just before The Wall Street Journal was to interview him about one of his pending cases.

Since 2005, Stris has had the rare fortune of personally arguing a total of four cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, three of which involved ERISA. All the while, the New York native and Boston-educated father of one had an entrepreneurial itch.

In late 2005, Stris sold his interest in his firm. While continuing to practice law in a limited capacity, he began forming the infrastructure of what would become Saffron Indian Restaurants—an Indian chain that is often described as a “Chipotle for Indian food.”

Stris, his Indian wife Radha Pathak, and his Palo Alto-based partner Ben Karlin, who is also one of the executives behind specialty beverage brand Q Tonic, took their time building a solid foundation for a concept they hoped would grow into a successful chain. The creation of Saffron’s menu was a top priority, so they recruited chef extraordinaire Bhupender Singh from the acclaimed Ambrosia Indian Bistro in Monterey to create a healthful Americanized Indian menu. Saffronites, as Saffron die-hards refer to themselves, have described the delicious dishes on review sites like Yelp as “addictive” and the “best damn Indian food, period.”

After two years of development, in February 2008, the first Saffron location opened at City National Plaza in Downtown L.A. It was an instant success and the overwhelmingly positive feedback encouraged the first-time restaurateurs to set their sights on location number two.

Stris led the effort to find “a prominent space to showcase the Saffron brand to the world.” While he and his colleagues considered a handful of Southern California communities, they eventually came to believe Beverly Hills would be the ideal place. With guidance from veteran restaurant consultant Jim Konstantinides, who has worked with notable brands such as Baja Fresh and Koo Koo Roo, the Saffron team discovered a space on South Beverly Drive that met their every expectation. Stris “wanted to be near other restaurants that we thought very well of” and found that ideal spot among local hot spots , , and .

Since opening Saffron’s showcase Beverly Hills location just ten months ago, Stris describes his Beverly Hills experience thus far as “fantastic.” He says Saffron was immediately embraced as a lunch destination that continues to show strong growth for takeout, as well as dinner and weekend dining. Stris began a major push a couple months ago into office catering and says this is now the fastest-growing segment of Saffron’s business.

In characteristically well-thought out lawyerly fashion, Stris has dug deeply for opportunities to reach out to the Beverly Hills community. He has found a great cause in the , with which Saffron has partnered a few times already. Just last week it participated in BHEF’s to save teaching jobs, which raised a staggering $540,000 from over 1,900 donors in just one week. Stris has also put into place discounts for Beverly Hills students and consistently offers specials through the popular social networks Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.

Not to be slowed down by the lingering recession, Saffron just announced plans to open more restaurants and is actively seeking out locations for expansion within the next 12 months. Stris is finding that his strategic move into Beverly Hills is paying off in ways he didn’t expect.

“A lot of prominent landlords and developers are reaching out to us because they are either residents of Beverly Hills or heard about Saffron from colleagues in the area,” he said.

Amidst his expansion plans, Stris stresses his long-term commitment to the Beverly Hills community and says his inbox is always open to ideas and feedback from local organizations and residents for ways to take Saffron on South Beverly Drive to the next level, while at the same time enriching our fair city with community service.

Saffron Indian Cuisine is located at 230 S. Beverly Drive. It's open seven days a week from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. For to-go orders call 310-248-5211. Metered street parking or paid lots are available along South Beverly Drive.

Jon Gluck is a bleeding heart Beverly Hillian. He is a graduate of Beverly Hills High School, where he was captain of both the football and hockey teams. He lives in Beverly Hills, works in Beverly Hills, and spends as much time as he can experiencing everything our great city has to offer. Gluck builds companies: He operates the only business incubator in Beverly Hills and manages Iconic Digital, a leading social media marketing firm that helps small businesses join the digital world.

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Tom Pease May 18, 2011 at 03:18 PM
Great place- it really is kind of the Chipotle of Indian food, and that's a good thing. The garlic naan alone is worth a special trip.
Isaac Naor May 18, 2011 at 05:44 PM
@tmp00 - agreed. I am a Saffronite myself and can personally attest to the fresh Garlic Naan being a temptress. Furthermore, over the past few months I've brought many friends to Saffron and found that every one of them LOVED the food as much as I do, if not more! @JonGluck - I've been patronizing this restaurant for so long and knew the mastermind was gifted, just not that gifted -- thank you for providing the deep insight into this up-and-coming phenomenon and personifying this magnificent brand!
Jon Gluck May 26, 2011 at 05:04 PM
@tmp00 Agreed. Any of Saffron's combos resting atop the warm embrace of its garlic naan is a revelation! @Isaac Well put and thanks for your kind words on the article. Saffron is an impressive startup story that looks to be just in its beginning chapters.

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