July 22, 2024 Donate

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Flavors from the Himalaya: Everest Sherpa Restaurant Blends Nepalese Culture with Ann Arbor’s Culinary Scene

Anjani Lama and Louisa Ainsworth, owners of Everest Sherpa Restaurant. Photo by Doug Marrin.

Ann Arbor is well-known for its culinary diversity, and Everest Sherpa Restaurant is nestled firmly within this vibrant social scene. It is more than just a dining destination. The restaurant represents the journey of its owners, a husband-and-wife team, Anjani Lama and Louisa Ainsworth, who have woven the colorful fabric of Anjani’s (who goes by “Lama”) Nepalese culture into the heart of America through the art of cooking.

Born in the remote village of Chaubas, in the Kavre District of Nepal, Lama’s early life was steeped in the traditions and hardships of mountain life. His journey to becoming a chef began out of necessity when his father moved with him and a younger brother to Kathmandu for better educational opportunities. “When we moved to the city when I was maybe seven or eight, I started cooking for me, my brother, and my dad. That’s how I learned cooking,” Lama recalls.

The mountain village of Chaubas, Lama’s hometown. Courtesy of Louisa Ainsworth.

The bustling city of Kathmandu, a hub for adventurers and cultural explorers heading to the Himalayas, provided Lama not only with a challenging environment in which to hone his culinary skills but also a chance to interact with tourists. At thirteen, he started working in a local restaurant, immersing himself in the culinary world. This exposure helped him learn English and appreciate the diverse cultures that converged in Kathmandu. Lama’s days were long, filled chiefly with hard work, occasional soccer games, and some martial arts practice.

Lama at Swayambhu Temple, known as the Monkey Temple, around 1995. Courtesy of Louisa Ainsworth.

Seeking broader horizons, Lama moved to the United States at the age of 21, landing in Miami. “I came from Nepal and landed in Miami in summer,” he laughs. “It was very hot. After we checked into the hotel, it was Saturday night, and we went for a walk. People were playing their music and dancing. That was a big surprise.” The transition was not easy, as Lama struggled with the thick atmosphere at sea level and seasickness while working on a cruise ship, a stark contrast to the mountain air of his homeland.

Lama’s cousin preparing a meal in her kitchen in their hometown village of Chaubas. Courtesy of Louisa Ainsworth.

His culinary journey in the U.S. led him through various Nepalese and Indian restaurants until he settled in Ann Arbor, where he met his future wife, Louisa, at Shalimar restaurant. Together, they ventured back to Washington DC, for a time, where Lama helped open a restaurant, building the experience needed to eventually own their enterprise.

Louisa recounts their first independent business endeavor, a small Nepalese dumpling shop named “Momo Cha,” located in Detroit Shipping Company, a unique venue made from shipping containers. This step was a precursor to their acquisition of Everest Sherpa Restaurant in Ann Arbor in 2022. “The COVID dust had settled, things were back up and running, and we felt like this should be our next step,” Louisa explains.

Lama’s exposure to the world as a boy came in the form of tourists flocking to Kathmandu for the culture and sights. Pictured here is the Shree Kaal Bhairav Temple in Kathmandu. Courtesy of Louisa Ainsworth.

Everest Sherpa serves a fusion of Indian and Nepalese cuisine, introducing patrons to the less familiar flavors of Nepal alongside the beloved tastes of Indian food. Lama explains, “People know and love Indian food but are not that familiar with Nepalese food. We put the two together in the menu to give people more choice with something new.”

One of the ways they introduce new dishes is through menu specials, like the Nepali Khaja, a traditional dish that has become a favorite among staff and patrons alike. It features grilled chicken marinated in ginger, garlic, and cilantro, served cold with accompaniments like puffed beaten rice and aloo achar.

Lama in action at his third restaurant, Yeti Kitchen in Lansing. Courtesy of Louisa Ainsworth.

Looking to the future, Lama and Louisa aim to open a strictly Nepalese restaurant to showcase Lama’s homeland’s cuisine further. Their dedication to their craft and each other has made Everest Sherpa a beloved spot among locals. “Lama’s whole life has been running kitchens,” Louisa notes. “These are recipes he’s developed over decades.”

Louisa concludes with a reflection on their journey, “It’s such a foreign concept to have to really enter the workforce as young as Lama did. And before that, imagine a seven-year-old kid cooking for his family. We’re a great team because we’re bringing different skills to the table. I couldn’t do it without him, and he probably couldn’t do it without me.”

Through their restaurant, Lama and Louisa continue to weave the flavors of Nepal into the fabric of American dining, offering a taste of Lama’s heritage and a story of resilience, partnership, and culinary exploration.

Everest Sherpa Restaurant is located at 2803 Oak Valley Dr, Ann Arbor, the same strip mall as Target.

For more information and a view of their menu, visit https://www.everestsherparestaurant.com/