About once a week, restaurant and food business East India Company receives a photo from its customers, showing their signature mango chutney arranged on a charcuterie board.
“One of our family jokes is that we don’t we don’t tell people how to use our sauces — they tell us,” says Nitin Mehra, executive chef. “It’s barbecue recipes for wings. It’s using the Coconut Korma [sauce] as a pizza sauce and putting your favourite veggies on there.”
For 20 years, this family-run business has been bringing a flavourful fine-dining experience to Ottawa — not counting another 50 years in Winnipeg. “We want to be ambassadors for our food and our culture,” says Mehra.
A fresh idea
Today, East India Company’s sauces can be found in 300 grocery stories across Ottawa — but launching a line of take-home products wasn’t always part of the plan.
In 2011, the restaurant was approached by Farm Boy, asking if the team would create spice blends for its grocery stores. “It did exceptionally well,” Mehra says. Within a year, Farm Boy reached out again — this time, they wanted a butter chicken sauce under East India Company’s own label.
The rest is history: East India Company now offers five bottled sauces and four spice blends, from tikka masala to vindaloo curry, found in almost all major retailers across the country.
Mehra says that the business’ success is a testament to what Canadians are asking for. “They want not only authentic, big-flavoured products at great prices, but they want something that’s made here locally.”
When Mehra says that East India Company takes a “wholly Canadian approach”, it’s no exaggeration: their tomatoes are sourced in Ontario, their spices are ground in Winnipeg — even their bottles and caps come from Montreal.
To top it all off, East India Company manufactures its sauces right here in Ontario. “I love that at the end of the day, we were fortunate enough to have three restaurants right here in Canada and now, our facility, which is one more massive kitchen, is also right here in Ontario!” Mehra says.
On a day-to-day basis, creating the sauces includes constant sampling, exploring new recipes, and cultivating retail relationships. “It never sleeps,” Mehra says. “It’s a 24/7, 365 approach.”
Efforts pay off
In the grocery store, Mehra says you have one or two seconds to get a customer’s attention — but once they pop open that jar, he says, they’ll see that the sauces are made with real, fresh ingredients, with no additives or preservatives. “It’s as if one of our chefs made it, put it in a bottle and gave it to you,” Mehra says.
With such steady momentum, East India Company is aiming to expand to over 15 sauces in the next 18 months. “We just want to do what we’re passionate about,” Mehra says. “[Creating] these classic South Asian recipes with our twist on it, and [getting them] to as many people as possible.”
East India Company will also experiment with other South Asian, East Asian and Middle Eastern flavours, as well as expand to the US; in fact, it’s already secured its first American partnership with an e-commerce platform selling gift-baskets.
“None of this is remotely possible without the people reading [this] and coming to the restaurant,” Mehra says. “Everyday, we are so grateful for that continued community support.”