The new owner of the old Holiday Inn hopes to recapture the glory of the once grand hotel and conference center on South Morrison by keeping its iconic look while expanding it to incorporate his own Sikh heritage.
Surmukh Singh, owner of Punjabi Dhaba in Hammond, plans to move his Indian cuisine restaurant out of its current gas station home on Southwest Railroad Avenue and into the hotel he and business partners Paul Jammu, Manpreet Singh and Gurjit Singh are renovating to reopen later this year.
Singh said the hotel used to be a very popular place, so he has tried not to change too much.
Chandeliers and other fixtures have been cleaned for re-use in the common areas of the hotel and banquet rooms with accent chandeliers being added. The former pink exterior has been repainted blue. Interior walls have been repainted their same color scheme. The piano remains.
In front of the hotel, Singh plans to build Rangla Punjab Theme Park with children’s rides, such as a trackless train. He is also adding a garden out front where people can sit outside and enjoy.
“I thought why not bring my culture – the heritage in my city,” he said.
Authentic archways will be built at the property entrance for visitors to drive beneath.
An indoor facility will be built out front to house a museum, featuring north Indian cultural and heritage exhibits.
People can see Indian culture such as old pictures, antiques from the 1920s, ‘40s, ‘50s, etc., he said.
Singh spent a month in India curating the exhibits, gathering three containers worth of antiques, statues and pictures that are being shipped to Hammond. Among the items are a 1960s scooter, a cycle and the shell of an old GM car used in India.
“I want it to be a picnic spot,” he said. “Kids can have fun outside rides. Couple can sit in the nice garden. Families can enjoy meals in the restaurant. Couples and young people can enjoy the club site. Everyone has a museum and Indian cultural heritage, so all ages can go there and see in one place how Indian people in the 19th century lived.”
This is a good chance for people who would like to go to India to see a piece of it in the small town of Hammond, he said.
He plans to hang three flags outside the hotel – an American flag, a Louisiana Flag and India’s flag.
Singh intends to keep Punjabi Dhaba Indian Cuisine relatively the same. The new restaurant location will allow a nearly 150-person capacity, and it will be decorated with handmade pictures.
Singh is in the gas station business. He owns multiple locations. While he is satisfied in this business, he said the restaurant and this new venture expanded from a passion and hobby.
In the food businesses, there is more communication and contact with people than in the gas station business, he said, which is why he likes it and why he opened the food part of it.
Singh bought the gas station after moving to Louisiana from Kentucky in 2016 and crafted the idea to put an Indian restaurant there with the help of his good friend Qutab Negi Singh, who is a professional chef from New Delhi.
“I told him I have a place. It’s a unique concept that we’re going to put a restaurant in the gas station,” Surmukh Singh said.
His friend liked the concept, too. He was unable to move from his location in California, but he took a few weeks off to come to Louisiana and teach his recipes to Singh and others. He trained them to cook the Indian food for Punjabi Dahaba.
Now, Qutab Negi Singh is available and will serve as the head chef of the restaurant inside the hotel. He is bringing with him more traditional cuisine items for the restaurant to serve. The second chef will be Sohen Singh.
People would tell him he needed a real restaurant location, and for the past two years he has searched. The old hotel offered him what he was looking for.
“My concept is I want to bring my culture to show people Indian culture,” he said. “This is Indian culture. That’s why this place – it’s very old school. The structure is very old school.”
The restaurant’s furniture will be oversized chairs and tables with Italian marble top.
Tables and chairs will be added around the bar where visitors can sit and drink or they can go to the restaurant and drinks will be brought to them, Singh said.
He hopes to have the entire facility ready in four months and plans for a grand opening before Christmas.
Initially, only 65 rooms, the 15 indoor hotel rooms and 50 of the 179 outdoor hotel rooms, will be used for guests. Management will open an another 50 more as the hotel gets a good response, he said.
Carpets are being replaced in the main area, and hard floors in some areas. Hotel rooms are receiving all new furniture and hard floors.
The night club area is being reopened. Singh has added more lighting.
The hotel is located at 2000 South Morrison Blvd. across from Don’s Seafood and was most recently operated as Magnuson Grand Hotel. It has been closed for a few years.
Once the restaurant moves locations, the Best Stop gas station will return to being a convenience store but will still carry a small selection of menu items for truck drivers.
Singh is opening another of the gas station/ Indian restaurant concepts in Gulfport soon.