Sunil Rajan ’80 is the founder of Rajan Restaurant Partners and Rajan Realty Partners. He and his son, Nikhil, recently opened a new restaurant, Riksha Tacos, located in Tallahassee, Florida—a culmination of their extraordinary passion for family, travel, and food.
The restaurant introduces a new take on Asian street food, inspired by Rajan and Nikhil's travels throughout Asia and Latin America. Riksha Tacos' interior is vibrant in color, a reflection of the streets of Asia, while the food expands their guests’ palettes and experiences. In August, online Tallahassee Magazine wrote, “Get prepared for explosive flavors with deep cultural inspiration.”
The restaurant is also a broader family collaboration. Nikhil is behind the menu and overall concept direction; Rajan's daughter, Maya, leads the creative direction and marketing; his mother, Sathi, provides family recipes; and his youngest son, Rohan, is largely the inspiration and motivation for it all. “Rohan is a happy, almost always smiling, autistic child who motivates me to be the best person I can be,” Rajan shared.
Before opening Riksha Tacos, Rajan served as the CFO of Speed Ventures PLC, a European internet incubator stationed in London, Amsterdam, and Stockholm and served multiple roles as a Managing Director at Bear Stearns.
What are your fondest memories of Berkshire? There were so many. In fact, my fondest memories were a confluence of everyday victories and setbacks, that I achieved and/or learned from that took me from the shy, introverted child that arrived at Berkshire to the outgoing, confident young man that I left there. I arrived at Berkshire having been born in India and having been raised in the U.S. under very loving but overly protective immigrant parents. When I arrived at Berkshire in 1978, I stood out in not the most enviable manner. But over the course of the next two years, with the help of the student body and a faculty who took a liking to me, I truly grew in ways I really did not think were possible. One fond memory that sticks out to me was Graduation Day. The last issue of the Green and Gray was distributed on that day, and I remember how proud my parents were when they read that my classmates gave me the accolade of “Most Likely to Succeed.” Academically, I went on to Tufts and later Columbia, but Berkshire had the most impact on the person I have become.
What are the most important life lessons that you learned as a student? The importance of speaking up and holding your ground. I previously spoke of 'setbacks' during my tenure at Berkshire, but they were in essence challenging learning opportunities. In the late 70s, during the Iran hostage crisis, there was a definitive anti-Middle Eastern sentiment brewing amongst the U.S. populace, and parts of the Berkshire community were not immune to the sentiment. There were unfortunate incidents where I had to defend (verbally and otherwise) my fellow students against misguided and/or narrow-minded fellow students. Over time, such exercises gained me a reputation for being thoughtful, articulate, and perhaps a bit hardheaded.
Can you tell us about your career and hobbies? Why are you passionate about them? I have been an active traveler for much of my life—the importance of which was instilled in me by my parents. Traveling brings the world closer together, more understanding of one another, and, simply put, it makes it harder to hurt one another if you've met the other side, their families and broken bread with them. And I've been blessed to be able to infect my children with the same travel bug. Thus far, I've had the pleasure of traveling to 44 countries—from motorcycling through the foothills of the Himalayas in pursuit of a famed astrologist to the rainforests of Brazil for the best shrimp Moqueca. In fact, my travels with my children are largely the source of our newest family venture, Riksha Tacos—a restaurant melding the best in Southeast Asian recipes with certain Central and South American culinary favorites. It’s been a blessing to focus on and bring together my three most passionate obsessions: family, travel, and food.
How did Berkshire help you shape and pursue your goals? I probably sound like a broken record, but Berkshire prepared me for life after school. Its impact on me far outweighed that of the academic lessons I learned in the classrooms at college and grad school. Berkshire taught me to fight and stand up, not only for myself but for others—all the while, without being the antagonist but rather a consensus builder. One of my proudest achievements at Berkshire was my “friend group” (not a phrase used in the 70s, 80s or 90s) transcended virtually all the student subgroups from geeks to freaks and jocks to artists. Boy, I didn't see that coming the first day of school in September 1978. Thank you, Mr. Clifford!
What advice would you give to today's students? Speak up, hold your ground. Be liberal-minded. Be thoughtful in your stances. Always, always listen to all sides. Really listen. Then bring out the thoughtful-minded, big-hearted, liberal-leaning, 'all inclusive' into your retorts and better yet, your actions. I see all these attributes in my children and wonder how they came from my loins and more importantly pray that these qualities never leave them.