Tipu’s turns out the lights

After more than 11 years of business, Tipu’s Tiger officially closed its doors Friday, July 11. The popular Indian restaurant, located in an alley off of South Higgins Avenue, was famous for being the first and only all-vegetarian eatery in Montana until new owners recently added meat to the menu.

“It’s been doing really poorly the last couple of months, and I think the owners realized they were getting into a pretty deep hole,” says Tipu’s founder Bipin Patel, who sold the business to Heidi and Jim Gonzales last October.

Under the agreement, Patel carried the Gonzales’ loan, meaning he’s now effectively left with the restaurant’s burden of debt.

“It looks like I’ll take back the space and try to find a new buyer as soon as possible,” Patel says. “I hope that it will reopen at some point, but it’s not going to reopen as Tipu’s, that’s for sure.”

The Indy was unable to contact the Gonzales’ for comment. A sign in the front window of the restaurant reads, “Tipu’s Tiger is now closed. Thank you.”

Tipu’s is the third restaurant to leave the Hip Strip area in four months, following Scotty’s Table’s move to the Wilma in May and 515’s March closing.

“I think there’s still a great opportunity for a restaurant in that location, especially now,” says Patel. “It needs a new face, though.”

Patel opened Tipu’s in 1997 with fellow Buddhist Chris Eyer in hopes that a restaurant based on their religious ethics would thrive in Missoula. Over the years, Tipu’s endeared itself to locals with its lunchtime buffet, assortment of traditional chutneys and its non-traditional curritos (an entrée wrapped in a flour tortilla and deep-fried), often eliciting glowing write-ups in national travel books. Despite being a Missoula fixture, Patel openly discussed the restaurant’s struggles in April 2005 with the Indy, and put it on the market in 2007 so he could focus on a separate venture, Tipu’s Tiger Chai, Inc., which manufactures and distributes the popular spiced tea that started in the restaurant. Patel stresses that the restaurant and chai business are not connected, and the chai company continues to do very well.

“I feel very personally sad about it,” says Patel about Tipu’s fate. “The restaurant was an important part of Missoula, I think, for a long time. But that time is now over.”

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