An Entrepreneur Creating a Momo Craze

Why She's a Tastemaker: Momo Ghar (meaning “Dumpling House”) has no PR firm, no copywriter. It doesn't even have its own website. But Phuntso Lama's Nepalese and Tibetan restaurant, which serves customers inside Saraga International Grocery and the North Market, is quickly becoming Central Ohio's newest culinary star. She's attracted eater.com, Food and Wine, celebrity chef Guy Fieri and the coveted love of Yelpers, and she's finally secured a space in the North Market, all while doing what she's always done: making filled dumplings called momos from scratch. Through her authentic approach and generous, charming hospitality, Lama has done more to introduce Himalayan cuisine to Central Ohioans than anyone else.

The Happiness Cycle: Cooking momos brings joy to Lama, who wants to share even more Nepalese food with Columbus in the future. “I love to make good food,” she says. “I love to make people happy with our momos.” When her customers are happy, she's happy, and it drives her to keep up the painstaking task of making food from scratch. Handmade daily by the hundreds, Momo Ghar's dumplings are rolled out, stuffed with minced chicken, pork, potato or vegetables and then steamed. Chopped cilantro and Lama's spicy tomato-based sauce make for perfect accompaniments.

Persistence Pays Off: After applying to be a North Market vendor twice, Momo Ghar's reputation and growing presence made it a must-get for executive director Rick Harrison Wolfe. “We started to get a lot of media attention that we were No. 1 on Yelp, and they approached us,” Lama remembers. “They wrote us and said that if we were still interested in a spot, they said that there was one available for us. We still had to go through the application process, but they gave us the spot. I will keep the North Market location open as long as I can. It's a great spot. I love being there and am enjoying it thoroughly. Everyone is very good to us. … Everything happens for a reason.”

Changing the Face of the North Market: It took a few tries for the logistics to work between Momo Ghar and the North Market, but their partnership is symbolic of what the future of the market can be, says Wolfe. “I saw a huge opportunity for Phuntso and North Market. They did their presentation, and we were sold,” he says. “They had proven themselves. People like Phuntso are the future of the market. I want the foods from Morse Road and 161. I want to get them Downtown, and I want them to become more mainstream. When you get them to the market, they become more approachable.”

Two Tiny Kitchens: While the Saraga location is small (it seats 12), the North Market kitchen is even smaller. “For North Market, it's a different setup,” Lama says. “Saraga's location is a full-service restaurant. At North Market, it's a takeout setup. My kitchen is smaller there than the other one, so I don't have as many dishes as the other one. But I have all the momos.” Is a bigger location a possibility in the future? Lama says she's actively looking to add a stand-alone restaurant to the Momo Ghar family that would expand upon her current menu. Stay tuned.