Kiran Indian Grocery, located on Cross Creek Blvd. in the Cross Creek Center plaza, has been a mainstay at this constantly-changing plaza since 2014. Before that, owner Kiran Vanthenapalli owned a store (from 2003-06; and an Indian restaurant, too) on E. Fowler Ave. and, from 2006-2010, her store was in the Pebble Creek Collection on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd.

That means that some of her beloved customers have known and trusted Kiran and her family and staff to provide their (predominantly) Indian and Pakistani spices, frozen foods, meats, snacks, sweets and even hair care and other cosmetic products (and so much more) for almost 18 years. 

And of course, Kiran is perhaps best known for her amazing selection of fresh produce, with some Indian specialty items I’ve never tasted (or even seen) before at prices that she says she knows, “no one can beat. I do my research — and no one beats my prices on produce.” 

But actually, saying that Kiran is best known for her produce isn’t 100-percent accurate. Kiran Indian Grocery is actually best-known for Kiran herself, something that no other store of any kind can boast.

Not only can Kiran tell you where each and every one of her thousands of available items are located, she also can tell you the prices for each — all off the top of her head. That’s kind of amazing because she has so many different items and many different brands of the same types of products — e.g., she has as many different “masala” seasonings and brands as most grocery stores have beers — crammed into a store that somehow seems both much bigger and much smaller than it actually is because it offers such an amazing variety of products. 

That’s not to say that Kiran’s staffers aren’t also knowledgeable. It just has to be impossible for anyone else to have memorized the price, size and exact location within the store of so many different items — many of which aren’t even marked with prices.

But, if Kiran tells you what the price is on any item, rest assured that when that item is rung up at the check-out counter, the exact price she quoted will pop up.

So Many Ways To Serve!

Serving her customers and their needs was of paramount importance to Kiran long before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. She always knows her army of regular customers not only by name (that’s too easy), but also by what they usually are looking for to stock their grocery carts. 

In fact, if she’s ever running low on an item she knows you always get, she’ll hold enough of that item for you, so you can stay stocked until she gets her next shipment of it. “If I only have three left, and I don’t know how soon I’ll get more, I’ll tell you to buy two of them,” she laughs.

And, if Kiran does somehow run out of one of your favorites, she’ll suggest an alternative that you can try that you might end up liking better. “I never want my customers going home unhappy,” she says.

In fact, even though a new, much larger Indian grocery store recently opened in New Tampa during the pandemic, Kiran says that while her customers may have checked out the new store to see what it has that she might not, “My customers are all still coming back because they say the new store (which also stocks a lot of Mediterranean items that she doesn’t carry) can’t match my prices or the service they receive here.” 

Kiran and I first met when we were both members of the Rotary Club of New Tampa Noon (which now meets Wednesdays at noon at Bayscape Bistro in Heritage Isles), and although neither of us currently belongs to that club (see page 34 for more info), we both are firm believers in Rotary International’s “Service Above Self” motto.

But, while service to the community is something I believe in and try to promote in these pages, Kiran and her husband Sudeer have always also served not only their community, but people — and even animals — in need around the world. 

Many of the service projects Kiran was  involved in — some of which she spearheaded — when she was in Rotary helped people in need in not only her native India, but also in other countries in Asia and Africa.

She also has been involved — at least since opening her store in Cross Creek — with the Tampa Bay chapter of the SPCA — the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — and she has donated fresh produce, rice and really anything the local chapter has needed because she is such a strong believer that people need pets and that so many of the pets in shelters can and do help individuals and families who need the kind of companionship and love that only a dog or cat can provide.

“I love the SPCA,” Kiran says. “It feels good to help them because they help so many people…and animals.”

And, even though she says doing grocery packing for her customers who physically can’t or aren’t comfortable walking into any store right now, “Is very time-consuming and difficult, because of all the different items we have, I just feel like I have to do it for some of these customers. We all wear masks and keep everyone socially distant, especially at the checkout line, but some people still need that help and I am proud to do that for them.”  

Service To Other Businesses, Too?

When Covid-19 hit back in March and I started going through the issues I did with my printer, Kiran was probably the first (but thankfully, not the only) advertiser to call me and say, “What do you need? How can I help?” 

When I interviewed Kiran for this story, she told me that, “I thought you said in the paper that you were going out of business, Gary. I started crying. I told Sudeer, ‘We have to help our brother.’”

Even though I thankfully never got to that point and have no Indian heritage whatsoever, Kiran has called me her brother for years now. And, even though she seems to treat everyone who stops into the store like a member of her family, I refer to her as my sister, too. You just can’t fake her kind of genuine goodness and compassion for others.

But, it’s a big compliment to me because she does also have an amazing family of which she is equally proud. Husband Sudeer is a software engineer and their older son Satvik just graduated from medical school at USF and is focusing on Psychiatry, while younger son Sahit recently graduated from USF undergrad and is applying to med schools, too.

Another case in point about how Kiran treats everyone is that, in part also because of Covid-19, when people check out at her store, she or her cashier will put coupons from other local businesses in the customers’ shopping bags. She has helped most of the Indian restaurants and other businesses owned by people from India and Pakistan in our area this way and she says that she would be happy to do it for other businesses, too. “We’re all in this thing together,” she says.

And of course, whether you like or want to cook Indian food or not, if you’re a fan of delicious chocolate cookies or other sweet and/or salty treats, or you want the best prices in town on fresh produce, you owe it to yourself to visit my sister Kiran.    

Kiran Indian Grocery is located at 10042 Cross Creek Blvd. and its recently updated open hours are Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. For more info, call (813) 994-6202 or search “Kiran Indian Grocery” on Facebook!

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