Victoria’s high-tech wiz turns to restaurant business, mixing philanthropy and gastronomy

Surinder Kumar, at his new Fort Street restaurant called Indyoga, is serving up big ideas, including some recipes inspired by his mother’s cooking. ADRIAN LAM/Times Colonist

ANDREW A. DUFFY
TIMES COLONIST 

Surinder Kumar started a high-tech firm and grew it into a global player employing hundreds of people. Now, he has his eye on repeating the feat, starting in the kitchen.

Kumar, who left as chief executive of Victoria-based Vecima Networks this year, is about to open a new Indian restaurant called Indyoga in downtown Victoria.

But Kumar is not content with simply opening an eatery. His goal is to spread his vision for a philanthropic and gastronomic endeavour that will spread around the world.

“Vecima started with one person and grew, so why not,” Kumar said.

“I want to use my success in Vecima. It has given me the financial wherewithal to do all this.” By all this, he means a vision for a massive chain of restaurants all working from the same playbook – providing a modern take on Indian food, with an emphasis on healthy eating, and using some of the profits to fund charitable endeavours around the world.

It’s big-idea thinking, but that’s what helped make Kumar a success with Vecima, which designs and manufactures products for broadband access to cable and wireless networks.

The firm recently posted a profit of $19.2 million for the 2013 fiscal year compared with $13.3 million the previous year. It also reported cash on hand of more than $31 million.

“I have lots of interests, ” Kumar said.

“I could have gone another way, but the concept of leveraging the money to help both North America [by promoting healthier eating] and other people in the world [through

the charitable giving] is kind of what’s driving me.”

Kumar said the new restaurant is also creating jobs.

“I hope this becomes a big operation.”

He said he has even teased his son, Sumit, who succeeded him as chief executive officer at Vecima, that the new venture could grow to the point he might be tempted to come and work for his father again.

Kumar wants to expand soon, though he will spend a few months seeing how the concept is working in the flagship Victoria restaurant.

Kumar suggests that initially half of the profits from Indyoga will be used to fund expansion of his new concept in cities around North America – all of the restaurants will be company owned, with local managers. Other profits will provide a consistent and steady flow of money to charities.

That philanthropic bent has always been part of Kumar’s makeup.

For years he has combined two of his passions, philanthropy and food, by putting on Indian feasts to raise money for various charities.

In 2011, he aimed to raise $10,000 for Horn of Africa Famine Relief through Save the Children Canada with a multi-course Indian dinner for 200.

And he did the cooking. The new restaurant is an extension of that endeavour, he said.

“And it’s a way to honour my mom in a way,” he said, noting he learned to cook by watching her and marvelling at her ability to squeeze a lot out of a small budget.

“I saw how ingenious she was, what she could do with very little money to feed a large family [with eight children].”

Indyoga will offer traditional dishes, Indian fusion items and some recipes inspired by his mother’s cooking that Kumar has tweaked and experimented with over the years.

Kumar has written out the recipes, designed the dishes and broken down the concept for the 15 staff who will start at the restaurant. He even trained the cooks at his kitchen in his home.

But Kumar said he will be found only occasionally “playing” in Indyoga’s large kitchen.

The restaurant, which will seat 60 people, has a simple, modern design with Indian flair.

The space was gutted after Kumar bought the two-storey building at 1015 Fort St.

He completely refitted it for the restaurant.

There is also a completely renovated space on the second floor that could be used to expand the restaurant or leased out.

“You know the more we do with this, the more I believe in the concept,” Kumar said, as the finishing touches were being put on the seating area Thursday.

“I’m not nervous or worried just excited.”

Finishing touches are also needed in the kitchen and washrooms, but Indyoga is expected to be open for lunch and dinner sometime next week.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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