Favorite

Working the floor with Sami Lal, the nicest Little Rock restaurateur 

'Welcome home!'

click to enlarge SERVICE WITH A SMILE: Sami greets Kina and James Drinkwater. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • SERVICE WITH A SMILE: Sami greets Kina and James Drinkwater.

There's only two kinds of service you remember when you leave a restaurant. The first is horrible service, server-on-a-bad-day service, "May I speak to a manager?" service. The other is the flip side of that: service so good it makes you leave feeling like you've made a friend instead of somebody to tip. Both of those (thankfully, in the case of the former) are rare. Rarer still, however, is service so good that people speak as much about it as they do the food.

That's often the case, however, with Sami Lal, the owner of Little Rock's Star of India. With a relentlessly buoyant personality and a photographic memory of the names and personal details of his repeat customers, Lal has made a name for himself as one of the nicest guys in the Little Rock restaurant world, a trait that keeps folks coming back to his little home away from home.

Born in India north of Punjab, near the famed Golden Temple, Lal has been in the restaurant business since 1973, starting out supervising a continental cuisine restaurant in West Germany. He eventually moved to Dallas, working in restaurants there for several years before coming to Little Rock to start Star of India. It's been in the same location, in Westchase Plaza at 301 N. Shackleford Road, since 1993. Cozy and fragrant with spices, the restaurant is a longtime favorite of James Drinkwater, who was dining at the Star of India lunch buffet with his wife, Kina, on a recent Friday. James said they drive there from Conway three times a week for the food and Lal's hospitality.

"He's very friendly," Drinkwater said. "He's just like family. Sami is truly five-star. You don't get better service. ... The attentiveness to the table, greeting you at the door, there's absolutely no difference, other than that Sami is probably happier than any greeter at a five-star restaurant." Drinkwater said Star of India is his favorite Indian food in Arkansas. He'd never tried Indian cuisine until his daughter talked him into going to Star of India soon after the restaurant opened over 20 years ago. Since then he's been a regular. "Medicine is taking note of the Indian spices and their health benefits," Drinkwater said. "I've had some problems with my weight, but I can eat a really well-balanced meal here and it doesn't affect my weight at all. This is healthful."

As we spoke, Lal was hard at work, often greeting those coming in by name or with his customary, booming "Hey, my brother!" or "Welcome home!" One customer who came in introduced Lal to his actual brother, with Lal telling him: "Welcome to the world!"

I caught up with Lal as he sped around the almost-full restaurant, checking on tables and greeting those coming in the door. One of my first questions was the thing a lot of regulars are curious about: Given the hundreds of faces he sees week to week, how does he remember all those names?

"It's a very tricky system," he said with a big grin. "It just comes to my tongue to say the name."

Lal said that though he loves the restaurant business, he really got into it because he genuinely likes seeing people happy, before and after a meal. "To be honest with you, it just makes me feel good to take care of the people, you know?" he said. "I always love people, and people blessing me. I love to take care of all the people who come to eat here."

The job of the hardest working man in show business waits for no reporter, however. Soon, the door opened again. He excused himself graciously as another group in coats stepped into the warmth of Sami's presence, all smiles when he called them by name.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of Sammi Lal, Star Of India

  • Proud to live in West Little Rock

    December 28, 2011
    When my husband and I first moved to Little Rock, we knew little about the area and had no preconceived notions about the metro's various neighborhoods. We came here with an open mind, eager to explore our new home, excited to see where our tastes would lead us. /more/
  • Vegetarian Dining Guide

    May 11, 2011
    With ever-increasing frequency, Arkansas eateries are making well-executed, delicious, meat-free dishes. /more/
  • More »

Related Locations

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by David Koon

  • Gov. Hutchinson on last night's execution: went according to protocol, no need for an independent investigation

    At a press conference this morning at the State Capitol, Governor Asa Hutchinson said that there would be no need for an independent review of last night's execution of death row inmate Kenneth Williams or even a written report, calling such an investigation "totally unjustified" even though witnesses said that as the deadly drugs were administered, Williams convulsed for ten seconds and groaned loud enough to be heard through the plate glass separating the execution chamber and the witness room.
    • Apr 28, 2017
  • Griffen asks probe of Ark. Supreme Court and AG's office conduct

    At a press conference today at the Doubletree Hotel just across from the Pulaski County Courthouse, Pulaski County Fifth Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen and his attorneys announced that he has asked the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to investigate the conduct of the entire Arkansas Supreme Court, and asked the director of the Arkansas Committee on Professional Conduct to investigate the conduct of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and several others in the AG's office, related to what Griffen and his attorneys claim were forbidden ex parte conversations between the Supreme Court and the AG's office.
    • Apr 26, 2017
  • San Francisco judge blocks executive order defunding "sanctuary cities"

    A U.S. District Court Judge in San Francisco has issued a preliminary injunction that blocks major parts of a presidential executive order that would cut federal grants to cities that refuse to assist federal immigration officials in apprehending undocumented immigrants.
    • Apr 25, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
  • Former state board of education chair Sam Ledbetter weighs in on Little Rock millage vote

    Ledbetter, the former state Board of Education chair who cast the decisive vote in 2015 to take over the LRSD, writes that Education Commissioner Johnny Key "has shown time and again that he is out of touch with our community and the needs of the district." However, Ledbetter supports the May 9 vote as a positive for the district's students and staff.
  • O'Reilly's fall

    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.

Latest in Cover Stories

Visit Arkansas

Fishing the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Fishing the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Arkansas angler and fishing expert Billy Murray shares his extensive knowledge of the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Event Calendar

« »

April

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30  

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation