Congratulations to Vikram Vij
, CEO of Vij’s Restaurant Inc., the 2011 Pacific Region Entrepreneur of the Year in Hospitality/Tourism.
At 5:15 p.m. there’s the usual lineup of diners waiting for Vij’s Restaurant to open. Inside, the owner, Vikram Vij is pacing. “I get nervous. I actually have goose pimples,” he says of the pre-opening jitters he’s had since he first opened his nouveau-Indian bistro in 1994. This despite authoring award-winning, best-selling cookbooks, consistently receiving rave reviews and being regarded as a star chef by the media. And now he’s got a new venture to fret about.
In 2009, while many companies were downsizing under the weight of the crumbling economy, Vij stayed committed to his vision of building a production facility in Cloverdale, B.C. He took out additional loans from the Business Development Bank of Canada and put a planned restaurant on Cambie Street on the back burner to direct all available cash to the project.
Today, Vij’s products, dubbed Inspired Indian Cuisine, occupy 70 per cent of the 28,000-square-foot facility he built. Inside, a dozen employees operate large cooking kettles to replicate the culinary experience of Vij’s two Vancouver restaurants, the original Vij’s (the one with the perpetual lineup) and Rangoli (the more casual sister next door), using the recipes perfected by Vij’s wife, Meeru Dahlwala. The new facility now prepares, packages in plastic pouches and flash freezes 15 different dishes.
Meanwhile, the Cambie restaurant remains on hold until the factory is standing on its own. “In May, we almost broke even,” Vij says, exuding optimism despite the summer slowdown that followed. With the days growing cooler and people getting back to their busy routines, he expects his production facility will hit the 20,000-pouches-per-month break-even threshold by the end of the year. With more than 100 retailers currently selling his ready-to-eat meals, he’s more than halfway there.
And if he has to shift from pacing behind the restaurant’s closed door or marching into buyers’ offices to cooking up a convincing curry, he’s got his chef’s whites waiting to go. After all, he’s got another 8,400 square feet of factory space ready for expansion and he plans to be at 100-per-cent capacity by 2016.