Vancouver restaurateurs scrambling for more staff ahead of Times of India Film Awards (with video)

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

Local Indian restaurateurs are worried they don’t have enough cooks in the kitchen for the flux of tourists coming for the Times of India Film Awards (TOIFA) in April.

“I’m excited for business, but then I can only do so much with the staff I have,” said Jose Madappilly, owner of Burrard Street’s Salam Bombay.

Madappilly has only been able to find four Indian cooks — ideally he needs 12.

“I’m short of people, so I’m shrinking my operation — the hours and I don’t do much catering,” he said.

He’s also had to put off plans to open another restaurant.

“I can’t run this outlet in full capacity, then I cannot (open a second restaurant),” he said.

And with thousands of Indian tourists expected this spring it will only be more difficult, because they’ll be looking for “good Indian food,” since many of them — like Jains — have strict diet restrictions.

“I’ll have more (customers) than I can handle,” said Madappilly.

Salam Bombay restaurant owner Jose Madappilly

Salam Bombay restaurant owner Jose Madappilly works in the kitchen due to a shortage of Indian cooks. Ward Perrin/PNG

Kamal Mroke, owner of Davie Street’s India Bistro is struggling, too — but he still hopes to open a second outlet to coincide with the awards. His upcoming restaurant, Bollywood Lounge, is slated to open in March on Denman Street and play off the hype — he’s decked out the inside with paintings of the Bollywood starlets coming to Vancouver.

But already short on cooks at India Bistro, Mroke is yet to find any for Bollywood Lounge.

“When I open the first week I have to work myself in the restaurant and in the kitchen,” he said. “I’m really worried … I have no staff.”

“It’s really hard to find a good cook over here.”

Indian restaurants have been struggling long before TOIFA, though.

“There’s a shortage of cooks here,” said Madappilly.

Locally trained Indian chefs are hard to find — and specific training is needed.

Laura Ballance

Laura Ballance’s firm is doing the PR for the Times of India Film Awards. Submitted photo

“It’s understanding the spices, the uses, how to use them the right way, the cooking procedures, the marination, the way they make breads,” said Madappilly.

He and Mroke often go to India to scout chefs and have them apply for temporary visas — but they’re usually denied. They don’t meet Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s requirements because of their financial assets and lack of travel history.

“Chefs hardly make around 20,000 to 25,000 rupees — which comes to $700,” said Mroke. “A guy working (and) feeding his family — making 25,000 rupees … how can he save the money?”

“If he’s making that you should consider his job … send somebody to investigate.”

“If they were financially sound they wouldn’t be coming here to Canada,” added Madappilly. “(So) if you put that as criteria, then you can’t hire anybody.”

But as the restaurateurs worry, some businesses seem to be reaping the benefits of TOIFA — like Laura Ballance Media Group, who’s been hired by the Times of India to do all of the North American media relations.

“There’s so many exciting aspects to it — it’s a huge thrill for us,” said Ballance. “We really see this as something that will go down in our company history.”

This will be another career highlight for them, alongside hosting the media centre for the 2010 Olympics.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase the best of B.C. to the business community and the population of India … (and) there’s a whole lot of people that will be seeing (B.C.) with fresh eyes,” she said. “That’s a responsibility as a B.C. firm that we hold very close.”

Charles Gauthier, executive director of The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, believes local businesses have enough tourism experience to keep up this April.

Charles Gauthier

Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, says the local business community has already experienced the Winter Olympics. Jason Payne/PNG

“I don’t think it’s going to be a challenge for our restaurants to handle it — we have done the Winter Olympics,” he said. “Our restaurants and our retailers and our business community are able to react quite quickly and ramp up to (the awards)… (and) a lot of our businesses have really built up good bench strength.”

While the local Indian restaurants are certainly excited for the booming business opportunities, they just wish the government would invest locally first.

“The Canadian government is paying so much money to (TOIFA) to come over here, but they’re not helping us over here locally,” said Mroke. “They’re just feeding someone else, making the money and they aren’t even thinking about what the locals are going to do.”

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