For Muskan Sohi, the story of her family’s Kalispell convenience store and the Indian food they serve is a simple one.
She and her parents, Ranjit Singh and Jasbir Kaur, moved to the area from Washington in October of 2021, and took over the Conoco gas station at 1090 N. Meridian Rd.
Before long they made the decision that her mother Jasbir Kaur would start cooking food that could be sold to customers. There wasn’t much by way of nerves or sleepless nights. If people didn’t like her mother’s food then the store and the gas station would survive anyways. But Sohi said there wasn’t much doubt. She and her father had been eating and enjoying her mother’s cooking for years.
“To be honest we didn’t think about it long before,” Sohi said. “It was just, like, in the moment. We just started talking, ‘Okay, let’s do this, definitely people will like it.’ That’s about it.”
Called Sohi Food Store, the convenience store has a fairly typical lineup of necessities, beverages and snacks, including fried food staples like chicken fingers and corn dogs. But those foods are relegated to a narrow sliver of the metal display shelving that glows golden in the light of heat lamps.
The main attraction is a selection of naan, samosas, butter chicken and chicken curry. Occasionally vegetable curry makes an appearance in the daily menu. The butter chicken and chicken curry meals come in Styrofoam containers and are shrink-wrapped to a separate container filled with white rice. It’s a grab-and-go setup, with the butter chicken priced at $7.99 and the chicken curry at $6.99.
There’s also a nearby refrigerated case filled with lassis, a yogurt beverage akin to a smoothie. The sweet mango lassi at Sohi Food Store is made mostly with yogurt and mango, with some added sugar. The sweet beverage is thick but smooth, and drinks easily through a straw.
A part-time medical assistant, Muskan Sohi also helps out at the store but when it comes to cooking, that’s where her mother takes over. Kaur cooks by feel and doesn’t measure things out. Her cooking methods and some of the spices she uses draw from the family’s roots in the northern Indian state of Punjab. Pots and pans simmering with a fresh batch of butter chicken or curry can be found atop a stovetop behind the register on a given day, with Kaur steadily ladling fresh servings out when the display shelf starts to thin at the hands of hungry customers. The smell of Kaur’s cooking is the second thing to greet patrons after the front door chimes upon opening. Sohi Food Store begins selling Indian food at 10 a.m. and usually begins selling out for the day between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. but sometimes food is still available as late as 8 p.m.
The option for Indian food in this part of the state are limited, and Sohi said that people occasionally ask for other Indian foods that aren’t offered at the store. Sometimes people will call ahead and make orders for 20 people. In other cases, people have driven from two hours away and dropped in to grab some food from the store. Then there are locals, like DeeDee Dallen.
Dallen popped out of the store Monday afternoon and headed for her car with a samosa, and two orders of chicken curry with rice in her hands. A former Los Angeles resident who has been in the area for nearly a decade, Dallen said Sohi Food Store reminds her of the Indian food she would eat back home. The flavor, the convenience and the price, have made her not only a regular, but an advocate for the store, going so far as to recommend it to family and friends and in some cases bring it to them directly.
She said the convenience store wasn’t somewhere she normally stopped, but one day while passing by she got curious and pulled into the parking lot.
“I’ve turned a lot of people onto this,” she said. “It’s good food and it’s a decent quantity. It’s perfect for lunch.”