Whether it's experiencing new spice blends crafted in the commissary kitchen or ordering in from his ghost kitchen, Chef Tushar Tondvalkar’s The Indian Pantry offers authentic flavours from across the Indian subcontinent.
Source: Scout Magazine
Before he joined Coho, Tushar was in search of commercial kitchen space to scale operations and build an audience for his imminent restaurant. As a result of the initial pandemic shutdown, the need to explore new revenue streams became a necessity when it became clear that restrictions were only going to increase. Through the Coho community, he was able to build connections, and have access to a variety of equipment and space. At the same time, he was able to reduce expenses while building a solid foundation for an evolving business model that offered flexibility in creating new products and services. Chef Tushar was one of our first members to join our East Georgia location. Here’s what he had to say about his experience with Coho.
Coho: Why did you choose to join Coho?
Tushar: I was working in restaurants for almost a decade, and after a while, I wanted to do things on my own. I didn’t have the money to open up my own restaurant, so I started doing private dining at first and I launched right before the pandemic, in January 2020.
I was looking for a commissary kitchen because when I got into private dining, I realized I wouldn’t be able to do it from home because we needed a food license. Evan (business partner Chef Evan Elman) and I thought about renting a commissary kitchen together, and when he heard Coho was opening a new commissary kitchen with updated facilities, we knew we had to act fast.
We got into the space when there was literally nothing. We saw a floor plan and envisioned where the line and all the stations would be, and were one of the first to step into the empty space on East Georgia.
Besides having the food licenses taken care of, there are also the added benefits of contacts you can get from a commissary kitchen. In a restaurant, you only make relationships with your colleagues and guests, but at Coho - all the other businesses help each other score the connections needed to get into retail stores.
Coho has also helped me to think outside the box and grab the opportunities at the right time with the right people. People are so friendly in the commissary, and there’s a really great community there.
Coho: How has it been growing your business at Coho?
Tushar: In January and February, catering businesses are usually slow, but in 2020 I watched as things started to literally shut down in those following months.
There were already so many small businesses at Coho with a retail line so I started talking to them. With Indian Pantry, we initially launched nine spices and simmering sauces and our first ghost kitchen - Urban Tadka. It was very popular, so we rebranded the ghost kitchen as a more fast-casual concept - Frankie so we could focus on our retail line. Since launching our products two years ago, we're now in dozens of stores across the Lower Mainland and in every major grocery store in BC. With restrictions relaxing, we’re able to host more pop-ups and events.
The Indian Pantry (Source: Scout Magazine)
Coho: What have the differences been between your experience opening a restaurant and starting in a commissary kitchen?
Tushar: It's not easy to open any kind of restaurant, especially when it's a physical space. Right now we don't have much overhead cost and we are happy with that, but based on experience there's going to be a need to have different kinds of revenue streams to support each other. A big benefit is the contacts you make from a commissary kitchen. All the other businesses here help each other score the connections needed to grow.
Coho: Do you think you'll stay at the commissary long term? What are your long-term growth plans for the business and beyond?
Tushar: My vision is to eventually own a restaurant, but it’ll be at least a couple of years because it's a lot of commitment, money, and research.
The purpose of starting my catering company was to get clients, then apply that client base to the restaurant. The retail line, ghost kitchens, and everything else came organically, so even when I open the restaurant, I won’t leave any of my other business behind because it’ll help balance out the restaurant when it opens.
Coho: How do you define success, and how has Coho played a part in it?
Tushar: Ultimately, the brand being known is how I would define success. Starting all of my businesses at Coho, and eventually, with the restaurant that I'll open, I want to promote the idea of regional Indian food and how vast it is. I've already started to work with local farmers in India back home, and hopefully, I will be able to showcase regional Indian cooking here in Canada and all I have learned on my continuing culinary journey.
Coho: Would you recommend other businesses to join a commissary?
Tushar: Coho is a great place to start your business. They cover a lot of overhead costs most businesses don't really think about when they're just starting out. Being here allows you to test out different kinds of businesses to see what fits, what you want to do, and what the customers want. You're surrounded by other entrepreneurs who have connections and experiences in places you don't have. Being here really does feel like you’re a part of a community.
Since joining Coho, The Indian Pantry has been able to introduce the country’s cuisine to new audiences by incorporating different revenue streams that otherwise would have been more difficult to do.
With a community of food entrepreneurs to lean on, Tushar is able to take on more risk with reduced overhead costs, while validating new revenue streams.
He is closer to his dream of opening a restaurant representing his country's cuisine.
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