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India transplant combines her love of food and music

In the afternoon, people may find a young woman waiting tables and offering suggestions from the Indian-inspired menu at the small restaurant inside Commercial Center, 953 E. Sahara Ave. But by night, patrons may see another side of Namaste Indian Cuisine owner Melque Rodrigues when she entertains them with a song or two by artists such as Tina Turner or Celine Dion.

Rodrigues is a Goa, India, transplant who made her way to the United States in 2005 in an attempt to pursue a singing career. Prior to her move, Rodrigues spent several months in Dubai singing professionally under Goa’s Chris Perry, who mentored the then-26-year-old aspiring musician before he died in 2002.

“Chris Perry was like a father figure to me,” Rodrigues said. “He said, ‘The day I die, you’ll become big.’ ”

In a way, Rodrigues said, Perry was right. Rodrigues became the lead singer of hit Goan band Muzik Mann, where she met frontman Brian Monteiro, who encouraged her to seek opportunities in the U.S.

“When Brian started listening to me, I was a different Melque,” Rodrigues said. “I never had plans to come to the U.S. I never thought I’d go to the U.S., but here I am.”

With the help of some cousins in the United States, Rodrigues completed paperwork for her visa Aug. 2, 2005 — a day that holds significance.

“My mom’s birthday (Aug. 2) was always a turning point for me,” Rodrigues said. “It was the day I went to Dubai and the day I got papers for my visa.”

From that day forward, “everything fell into place,” she said. Though Rodrigues set music aside to work at a Macy’s department store in Los Angeles, she held onto her dreams of being a musician, singing for weddings on the side. Rodrigues’ boss suggested that she transfer to the Macy’s store at Fashion Show mall in Las Vegas, where she could better pursue her passion. Little did she know that another adventure was in store after encountering the owners of Namaste during lunch one day.

“The chef and manager said, ‘Why don’t we become partners?’ ” Rodrigues said. “They said, ‘We’ll treat you like a sister. Put your money into (the restaurant), and we’ll go from there.’ They agreed to let me sing.”

But the investment wasn’t what Rodrigues imagined. She said she wasn’t allowed to sing or work the register because of the deteriorating retinas in her eyes.

“I trusted them,” Rodrigues said. “I came to a point where I said, ‘Give me my money or I’ll sell the restaurant,’ and they walked away.”

Her former partners left in October 2011, and Rodrigues has run the business since. With the help of a chef and a small wait staff, Rodrigues operates the business daily, with a lunch buffet from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner from
5:30 to 10 p.m. She sings nightly to tunes by artists such as Tina Turner, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion.

It’s still a struggle, she said, trying to keep the business up and running, but with Rodrigues’ deep religious faith and help from friends, the restaurant stays afloat.

“I had no business experience before I came into (the restaurant), but I know how to save a dollar, and that’s why I keep this running during the recession,” Rodrigues said. “I believe in God, and if you believe in Him, things can happen. Even with my disability, I know I can run this place.”

Matt O’Brien, one of Rodrigues’ first friends in the valley, said he gained instant respect for the songstress and restaurant owner upon his first visit to Namaste.

“The first time I met her, I was impressed with how much she does at the restaurant,” O’Brien said. “She’s very passionate about her food and music. It’s been a battle for her, but it’s a combination of things that make her successful.”

Rodrigues’ passion for Namaste’s food stems from her Indian roots. She’s determined to break Indian food stereotypes with every dish served.

“Most Americans have this concept that Indian cuisine is all about curries,” Rodrigues said. “There’s more to it. Indian food is not spicy, either. Every spice has a medical remedy. The chefs picked dishes from every (Indian state), and each state has its own charm. My chef cooks from his heart. People really feel like they’re having a good meal.”

Though Rodrigues never anticipated owning a restaurant, she views the venture as another step in her journey.

“Now, my music and my food is going hand in hand,” Rodrigues said. “I have to balance both sides. Sometimes, it’s too much. It’s a big responsibility, but I personally feel that God gave me this restaurant for a reason. My main goal is to share my voice with the whole world. My restaurant is my second baby.”

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at lcarter@viewnews.com or
383-4686.

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