It used to be a nearly 50-mile drive from Wheeling to find authentic Indian cuisine, according to Muhammad Sherazi, owner of the newly revamped Wheeling Food Mart. Now, the gastronomic delights from over 7,000 miles away are being served in one unassuming East Wheeling convenient store, compliments of his wife Gul “Rose” Malik.
Facebook has been buzzing for several months about the Chicken Biryani, curries, naans, tikka masala, kheer, samosas and pakoras available for walk-in and call ahead take-out.
Sherazi immigrated to the United States in 1999 and has been operating a computer business in the Ohio Valley ever since. With the former East Wheeling convenience store shuttered, he saw a business opportunity.
“I was a pharmacist in Pakistan and was trying to do my exam here, but we decided to buy this place and we started working,” Malik said. “I was cooking just for my friends here, but customers would come in and say ‘Oh, it smells so good!’ so I said ‘OK try this’ and they would like it and it just started expanding because they put it on Facebook.”
But the lore of Rose’s cooking did not begin at this store.
Wheeling resident John McKee worked with Rose and her friend Ashi at Vocelli Pizza.
“They would bring it in to work so we could all try it. I told her the food could be like a niche [market] because there’s nothing like that around here. It’s unique and more flavorful. Once she started working at her new store, I said it would be great if she could serve it from there. I told her I would buy it for me and my friends.”
In Spring of 2021 Rose and Muhammad began offering a small menu and watched business explode.
“Among those very first customers who actually started coming on a regular basis and began promoting it were the people from DHHR, Wheeling Hospital and the Wheeling Clinic,” said Sherazi. “I have got to express that the support and patronage from people is amazing. They advertised for us so much on the Internet. Everyone came in saying they heard about it from somebody else. Now our phone is ringing every day and the line snakes back the aisle toward the back of the store. They say ‘We’ve been missing food like this in this town.We’ve never had this.’”
Sarasvati Graves agrees.
“I grew up on Indian food. I think it’s awesome having Indian food options downtown for when the mood strikes. Especially as a vegetarian! There are a variety of things to choose from which we appreciate so much!”
The quality and novelty of the food keeps customers returning but so does Rose’s bubbly, yet soft-spoken personality.
Cayce McCasland works down the street and has sampled most of Rose’s food.
“She’s always kind enough to share samples and everything I’ve tried is delicious and authentic, but what is really nice is she always takes the time to talk about the ingredients.”
Several of Rose’s regulars shower her with gifts. One woman brings flowers: ‘A rose for a Rose,’ she says. Another provided her with an Indian cookbook.
Joseph Munjas met Rose in 2018 not long after her arrival in America. He’s been to 42 American states, 11 European countries and Mexico and has dined in all.
“I like Rose but if I didn’t like her cooking, I would be the first to tell her. It was Rose and Muhammad that introduced me to Indian cuisine. After so many years, it was a pleasant surprise to have my taste buds introduced to a cuisine that was remarkably different from my standard fare.”
Something else that might be appealing to local foodies is that much of the food supply is sourced from local and regional vendors such as Jebbia’s Market, Reisbeck’s and the Strip District in Pittsburgh (especially for goat and lamb for some of the curries).
In addition, there are other recent improvements such as adding a few tables to the exterior of the store for dining or just relaxation. A selection of authentic food products have been added to the store shelves as well. Finally, a dedicated Facebook page is in the works as well.
Rose’s dedication to her business is evident in the 18-hour work days which begin at 6:30 a.m. and span all days of the week. Not only does she prepare and serve her food, she also runs much of the rest of the store and has to make the hoagies, wings, pizzas and other food items they provide.
“I started cooking and providing catering services to my community back home when I was 13 years old. It’s my passion. Now I’ve left all my family and friends behind. I’m so happy. It’s the love. Everybody is loving me. It’s the food too but now it’s become a friend circle.”
The Wheeling Foot Mart is located at 153 16th Street in Wheeling. They are open 7 days a week. Stop in Monday – Thursday 7 a.m. – 11 p.m., Friday – Saturday 7 a.m. – 12 a.m., and Sunday 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
• Rich Wooding has been a Correctional Officer with the State of Ohio/Belmont Correctional Institution for more than 25 years. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism with a minor in Philosophy from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania in 1993. He is a U.S. Navy veteran, serving from 1985-89.