For the last two decades, Anish and Nitin Mehra have been serving up quality South Asian cuisine to residents throughout the capital.
Known for its diverse menu and bold flavours, the East India Company has quickly become a fan-favourite for Ottawans. But, while the company prepares to mark its twentieth year in the capital, the family’s culinary journey actually began much earlier than that.
Kamal and Sudha Mehra opened the family’s first restaurant in Winnipeg – Mehra’s Delicatessen – in the early 1970s, shortly after immigrating to Canada.
“At that time it was a deli in the morning and an Indian restaurant at night,” says Anish Mehra, the manager of Ottawa’s East India Company. “As time went by, the Indian aspect grew bigger and bigger and the deli component got smaller.”
Just a short year later, the family founded Winnipeg’s first North Indian restaurant, India Gardens, which featured homemade, original recipes.
From there, the family continued to expand the business – landing on the East India Company brand and branching out into new locals.
Today, the restaurant has three locations – Somerset Street, Robertson Road and York Avenue in Winnipeg.
“We’ve always tried to be at the forefront of Indian cuisine,” he says. “If you walk into any of our restaurants, it’s not just about the food, it’s also the atmosphere. It’s the artwork from India, all authentic pieces that we salvaged from homes, temples and buildings that were about to be torn down. We brought them back to Canada to create the right atmosphere for our guests.”
Building success in Ottawa
In May, the East India Company will celebrate its 20th anniversary in the Ottawa region, a monumental achievement for the family. Although the business started out as a way to bring traditional Indian cuisine to guests, it has evolved into much more, says Mehra, who manages both locations along with his brother and executive chef, Nitin Mehra.
While the restaurant has remained committed to its coveted flavours and dishes, the Mehra brothers are equally interested in creating the next generation of Indian cuisine.
Currently, East India Company has two sommeliers among its staff, and Nitin – who trained at both Algonquin College and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts – is dedicated to finding the right fusion of contemporary cuisine and well-loved family recipes, relying on fresh ingredients to curate the menu.
Nitin says the restaurant also tries to support other local suppliers as often it can.
“We buy a lot of meat and produce locally, directly from the farm,” he adds. “That’s really important to us as a fellow local business.”
The family has also branched out further into food production, taking business from a sit-down dinner experience to the shelves of the grocery store.
“We started packaging our spices first, doing it a little here and there,” says Anish. “Then we moved to sauces, as people wanted to recreate the flavours at home.”
Managed out of the Ottawa region, East India Company now sells five different bottled sauces, which can be found in up to 300 locations across Canada.
Staying strong during an unexpected global crisis
Like most other businesses within the restaurant industry, the pandemic led to two years of unexpected challenges, but East India Company persevered.
“We didn’t lay off any of our main chefs or staff. Anyone who wanted hours, we gave them where we could,” says Anish. “Many of our staff have been with us for years, so we were dedicated to keeping them on and ensuring there were familiar faces for when customers returned.”
As signs point to brighter days ahead, Nitin says he is excited about the future of the business. The next generation has already begun helping within the restaurant to learn the ropes, which means Ottawa can expect to enjoy the delicious flavours from the East India Company for decades to come.