Priyanka Chopra Jonas is on a mission to change the way Americans think about South Asian culture.
In March 2021, the actress and mother, married to singer Nick Jonas, opened upscale Indian restaurant SONA in New York City, with her business partner Manish Goyal. The menu offers a variety of foods from India, including Punjabi chicken salad, Bombay chicken paida roti, Rajasthani lamb and more.
“I just want to revolutionize South Asian culture in America,” Chopra Jonas said in an interview with Good Morning America. “I also believe that there is no culture of understanding that exists in the United States with South Asian food in a gourmet way.”
“It’s not from a particular region in India. Because I grew up in multiple parts of India. So that was very important to me, to get the classics I’m used to. But also, like truffle eggs, you know? Like truffle dosa, for example” . “But at the same time, you have butter chicken from the North.”
The restaurant is a dream in the making for not only Chopra Jonas, but her friend and co-founder Joyal. His family settled in Dallas two months after his birth. Goyal’s father was a young Indian immigrant at the time.
“He looked around and realized that there is not a single Indian restaurant in all of Texas,” Goyal said. And he opened the first Indian restaurant in Texas called India House.
Four decades and 1,500 miles later, Goyal is following in his father’s footsteps.
“There will always be a link to the country they left,” he said. “And that’s what I know from afar but with love. And now I’ve actually written that love down by opening a restaurant in this kitchen.”
Goyal brought in Chef Hari Nayak, an expert in Indian cuisine who has cooked in cities around the world, including Bangalore, Bangkok and Dubai. He shares the same pride that Jonas Chopra and Goyal do about the menu’s diversity.
“When I was designing it, we wanted to take you on a journey in all the different regions of India,” he said. “We want it to be an adventure.”
Part of this adventure includes some Western influences, such as East Coast oysters.
We put green garlic [on] “And the buttered oysters,” Harry said. “It is always from the heart of India. So this is very important to me.”
For Chopra Jonas and Goyal, the restaurant is just the beginning. They recently launched SONA Home, a new line of homeware that embodies the spirit of South Asian hospitality.
“Suna Home is a distilled and rooted collection that comes from India but is meant for the modern home,” she said. “It’s for a home that likes to have a big table with people. Our culture is all about making the community and the family.”
The duo have designed a 45-piece flatware set that oozes elegance, carefully considering every detail and the meanings behind it.
“The palm tree is a really big idea that you see in most pieces,” Chopra Jonas said. “Most people don’t associate palms with India. But India is very coastal. It is a peninsula. It is surrounded by water of different kinds. You see palm trees and coconut trees everywhere.”
While all the pieces are inspired by the husband’s Indian culture, one pattern feels special as it gives a nod to Goyal’s mother.
“His mum saved all her favorite sari for his wife,” Chopra Jonas said. ‘ And when he came to her, she said, ‘What shall I do with the sari?’ “And he was like, ‘I’m going to rehire them.'”
Both the homeware and food line embody South Asians’ love of hosting. When it comes to cooking, the actress said she leaves that to the experts.
“I’m not the best chef in the world,” she said, “I’ll tell you. My husband and I, we love to entertain.” “I can make great eggs. Eggs are possible. But I can’t make gourmet eggs. I’m the worst cook, and my friends make fun of him. But I’m a really good host.”
For Chopra Jonas and Goyal, it’s not just about setting up the room, but creating a room that everyone can walk into – the culmination of years of hard work.
“It took a lot of hitting the pavement to try and get a seat at the table, you know? For me. It was a very lonely ride. I didn’t talk much about it because it’s kind of hard to explain,” Chopra said Jonas. “It’s been a decade since I’ve been here and I’m talking to you about a line inspired by my home. The fact that there should be a place at the table for every kind of culture that lives here is really important to me.”