After decades working in his family's restaurant, Ajay Kumar has branched out on his own.
AJ's Cafe, his new restaurant, has taken over the former C-Town Market and Deli space at the northwest corner of Fourth and State streets downtown, just north of German Village.
The breakfast-and-lunch restaurant specializes in fresh-made salads, homemade soups, sides and prepared and made-to-order sandwiches, all at competitive prices.
One of the specialties is the vegan spiced chickpea wrap -- rice, spinach, cumin-spiced chickpeas, onions and tomatoes with a drizzle of tamarind chutney. It is one of six signatures sandwiches costing between $5.99 and $7.49.
"You can't beat that for downtown prices," said Kumar, who lives on the Northwest Side.
He said he kept the menu simple, offering select dishes prepared on site, plus locally homemade desserts from Pastries by Inna and Upper Cup Coffee Co., also based on Columbus.
Many grab-and-go selections are for the busy downtown worker who doesn't have time to sit down for breakfast or lunch.
Kumar's family, which had previously owned the long-standing Taj Mahal in the University District, sold the restaurant, now known as Mughal Darbar.
The family had considered opening another full-service Indian restaurant, but reconsidered when faced with the cost of labor, equipment and a hood system.
AJ's Cafe occupies 2,400 square feet of space at 152 E. State St. The restaurant seats 30.
Kumar said the menu is full of Indian-spiced dishes, such as the curry chicken salad and the "raja wrap," which features tandoori-style chicken.
Of course, there are more mainstream deli favorites, such as the reuben, turkey-meatball sub and Cobb salad.
He said he plans to soon introduce daily Indian specials.
"I'm not letting go of that part," Kumar said.
AJ's Cafe is open six days a week. It is closed Sunday.