Seven months ago, when Cheetie Kumar and Paul Siler closed down venerable downtown Raleigh restaurant Garland, the pair intimated that they’d be back on local the scene soon, telling Eater Carolinas that they “hoped to reincarnate” the restaurant in some form.

On Wednesday, the couple announced that they’ll soon be opening neighborhood restaurant Ajja at 209 Bickett Boulevard, in Raleigh’s Five Points District. The restaurant will share the space with Anisette Sweet Shop, which will continue to operate morning hours and flip to restaurant use in the late afternoon.

Ajja roughly translates to “come over” in Hindu and Urdu, Kumar says. The anticipated opening date is late May or early June.

Kumar and Siler hope to evoke this invitational spirit with a focus on “diverse foodways and cultures, vibrant spices, and cooking techniques of the Mediterranean, the Middle East and beyond,” according to a press release, and “small plates with skewered grilled meats, veggies, and bright, herbaceous flavors.”

The restaurant opens with familiar faces: former Garland team members Gaëlle Laforest as general manager and Lindsay Ogden as beverage manager. Chris Gamble, formerly a line cook at Garland and sous chef at Poole’s Diner, joins the kitchen team as sous chef.

The indoor space of the restaurant is small—just 1,800 square feet, a far cry from the sprawling 14 West Martin Street building that housed Garland, as well as Neptunes and Kings—but Kumar tells the INDY Week she is excited to explore a menu informed by al fresco dining, with an outdoor bar, ample outdoor seating, and space to grow herbs and compost.

Kumar and Siler opened Garland, a pan-Asian restaurant informed by seasonal North Carolina flavors, in 2013. It became a downtown staple and accrued a slate of awards, over the years, with Kumar scoring semifinalist nods for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast five times, and finalist nods twice, in 2020 and 2022, respectively, before closing down in August 2022.

But success requires a breakneck speed, and Kumar says that in this new, reimagined neighborhood restaurant, she looks forward to a slightly more manageable pace. She imagines taking lunchtime meetings outside and being an outpost that regulars can drop by, a few times a week, for dinner or a glass of wine.

“We’re doing a little bit of everything that we did [at Garland] but in this very, very small footprint,” Kumar says. “It’s been really nice to imagine doing more with less. The last decade has been about managing a lot. It takes a lot to manage a lot and I’m just really looking forward to being able to talk myself down a little bit.”

Follow Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards on Twitter or send an email to

Support independent local journalism

Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.