Arpita and Omar Oselimo are a Gainesville power couple. If you haven’t heard their names, you’ve likely heard of their three restaurants: Reggae Shack Café, Southern Charm Kitchen and The Twisted Peacock. Beginning in 2003 with the opening of Reggae Shack Café, the Oselimos have never stopped striving to improve themselves, their restaurants and the community.
Opening and running just one restaurant is a task many people would find daunting and stressful. For Omar, two restaurants weren’t enough to satisfy the multitude of concepts competing for attention in his head. A recent availability of space on SW 13th Street spurred him to give life to one idea, The Twisted Peacock. He felt the area called for an Indian cuisine restaurant, and that’s just what he created.
The name “Twisted Peacock” combines the revered animal native to India with a nod to Omar’s ability to remix traditional foods guided by his culinary expertise and the Gainesville palate. The Oselimos hope that even people who have never dreamed of eating Indian food will venture out to The Twisted Peacock, if only to sample Omar’s latest dishes.
Food With History
The three seemingly unrelated restaurants can be traced back to different aspects of the Oselimo family. Reggae Shack Café embodies Jamaican-born Omar; The Twisted Peacock originates from the love Omar developed for Indian food after meeting his Gujarati wife Arpita; and Southern Charm is the culmination of their life together in the South.
“Our food is really special; it’s different,” explained Arpita. “It’s not something you can cook at home. You have our dish, and you wonder what’s gone into it because the flavors are so complex.”
However, it’s more than just the food. Dining at any of the restaurants is an experience. Omar’s restaurants are anthropomorphic. The whole atmosphere is carefully crafted to reflect each restaurant’s personality, and each restaurant is lovingly decorated in a manner that suits the personality assigned. The walls of The Twisted Peacock, for example, are adorned with henna paint, real Bollywood movie posters and mounted Indian instruments.
“(The decorations) are important to me,” said Omar. “They are authentically relevant — not kitsch, not a reproduction, not mass-produced stuff. I always want unique pieces. I like to think of the restaurants as museums. They are preserving the culture they are representing.”
It’s his love and passion that really drives the restaurants to success. And, as many success stories go, behind this successful man is an intelligent and ambitious wife. Some of the tasks Arpita handles include bookkeeping, accounting, interviewing and hiring, staff training and orientation and payroll. She is the one who grounds Omar’s wild fantasies, according to Omar.
“It’s Arpita who makes everything happen,” he says. His job is the vision.
“This is what the universe has chosen for me to do,” he said. “I fought it for a long time. But, this is an area where I could make an impact.”
The impact has certainly been felt. Arpita and Omar make a concerted effort to be involved in the community — Gainesville is a priority for them, they said. All three restaurants hire high school students from Eastside High School’s Institute of Culinary Arts, where students are trained to pursue their passions in the kitchen. The Center for Independent Living of North Central Florida, a community disability resource center, has also helped staff the businesses. Southern Charm Kitchen was a Community Redevelopment Agency project aimed at beautifying the area. The restaurants cater for charity and employ a diverse staff, pulling from all walks of life in Gainesville.
For Arpita, giving is essential. “Being able to do that is important to me. We’re in a position to give back to the community and support the community.” As for Omar? Giving is the “law of life,” he said. His success comes with help from the community, and he feels it’s his obligation to give back.
The success is visceral. People walk away from their meals not just feeling satisfied but inspired. Employees write back years later to thank Omar for the way he and Arpita changed their lives.
“You start a business,” Omar said, “[and] you want it to be impactful, but when it actually is in a real way…I feel if I died today, I lived a fulfilled life.”