North America’s largest Indian buffet is on fire
By Kate Lysakowski
Produced by Tom Cunningham
When Shraey Gulati and his family came to Canada from India in 2005, he was a young man of twenty-four. Having been a student of journalism, advertising and marketing in Delhi, Gulati was determined to make a name for himself in the Canadian business world, though at the time, the restaurant industry was not an obvious first choice.
Mopping the floors of their family-owned convenience store in Mississauga was a far cry from the career goals Gulati had envisioned; after all, his father, Gajendra Gulati owned a paint manufacturing business back home in India, employing more than 150 people. The family knew that they wanted better for themselves than managing a convenience store, so the Gulatis treated it as an opportunity to “learn how economics worked in Canada … the currency, the government, the tax structure.”
A year and half later, the family sold the store and got their feet wet in the restaurant industry when a franchise opportunity became available in Kitchener, Ont. While he admittedly wanted the freedom of running a restaurant without the confines of adhering to the limitations of a chain, Shraey thought this too was an opportunity to educate himself on the intricacies of owning and operating a successful restaurant. Three years later, having obtained a myriad of new business insights and eager to return to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the Gulati family sold the Kitchener restaurant and went in search of their next business venture.
At the same time, their family celebrated Shraey’s first wedding anniversary with his wife, Ameen, at a restaurant in Brampton. In jest, Gajendra Gulati mentioned to the restaurant owner that he would like to purchase the business and take over. As luck would have it, the owner was indeed in the market to sell and so began the Gulati family’s most successful Canadian business endeavour to date, as the owners of North America’s largest Indian buffet and restaurant, Tandoori Flame. With Jyoti Gulati, Shraey’s mother, looking after food quality and catering, Shraey was able to concentrate on the business’s customer service and marketing plan with the help of Ameen and younger brother Aman, while Gajendra managed the finances and economics of the business.
It started as one restaurant located in the heart of Brampton, consisting of 14,000 square feet of dining space, with room to seat more than 500 patrons. On any given day, the buffet caters to a vast array of taste palates with 11 food stations that boast up to 150 items. What makes Tandoori Flame especially unique is that the Indian cuisine is guaranteed to be authentic. When Shraey took over the business in July of 2009, he describes that his family’s biggest challenge was in finding the right kitchen team to create and prepare savoury and consistent dishes. He explains, “Every individual, even if given the exact same recipe for… butter chicken would cook it differently.” Knowing that the pulse of the restaurant ultimately depended on the quality of the food, Gajendra and Jyoti traveled home to India, outsourcing chefs from renowned eateries and bringing only those with the highest standards and with at least 10 years of experience back to Canada to work for Tandoori Flame.
The flavours of GolGappas, Papri Chat, BhelPuri, Lamb Vindaloo and Chicken Tikka Masala, to name a few, are made by those who arguably know it best and contribute to the establishment’s rising success. There are a multitude of items that cater to those with dietary restrictions such as gluten-free options and halal. The building’s tremendous capacity to cater to large groups, as well as the abundance of available food choices, makes Tandoori Flame a popular destination for patrons celebrating special occasions. Their party rooms accommodate smaller groups as few as 20 to as many as 400, capitalizing on what Shraey believes to be “the biggest driving force behind the concept that “each individual in a group can have whatever they want and as much as they want.”
While Tandoori Flame continues to rise in popularity amongst Indian food enthusiasts, Gulati still finds time to enrich the lives of others within the Canadian community. In an effort to reduce food waste and contribute to the Breakfast Club of Canada, he began charging his patrons an additional $1 for food left on their plates at the end of their meal. The campaign ran for six months, with the hope that “the community at large will think twice before throwing any food away … there are so many people in the world not getting enough food,” Shraey explains.
The Gulati family has since opened a new Tandoori Flame in Mississauga, The Indian Kitchen, and does not plan on stopping there. There is growing buzz that the Indian buffet will be introduced in Vancouver within the next year, with a long-term goal of expanding to include at least one Tandoori Flame in every major city in the country. In the more immediate future, the Brampton location can expect to see $1 million in renovations in the coming months.
When asked to share the key components of his current success, Gulati, without hesitation, says it is “my father’s trust, the unity of the family and the employees in the restaurant … the entire team as a whole.” What he neglected to mention, which perhaps goes without saying, is Shraey’s obvious business acumen that lends itself to the success of Tandoori Flame. Having admittedly “never worked a day in [his] life” prior to arriving in Canada, Gulati’s is a success story to be admired. Although he works 12-hour days, seven days a week, Gulati’s efforts are not without their rewards. As Tandoori Flame continues to gain momentum in the GTA, with online reviews requesting more locations placed closer to home in the Markham, Vaughan, and Milton locales, it is clear that North America’s largest Indian buffet is going to have to get a whole lot bigger.
To learn more about Tandoori Flame, visit tandooriflame.com.