It took a lot of nerve for anyone to open a restaurant in the pandemic when so many other eateries were struggling to survive.
Harsh (“Ron”) Sharma, the friendly and extroverted CEO of the Bombay Kitchen + Bar group, actually opened two in Vancouver as the city was in the grips of COVID-19.
The first, called Bombay Masala (4473 West 10th Avenue), began serving customers in its chic and clean dining room on July 1, 2000, in Point Grey Village.
His company’s second funky Bombay Kitchen + Bar was launched in the former Vij’s location (1480 West 11th Avenue) in the South Granville neighbourhood in early 2021. (The first Bombay Kitchen + Bar opened on Commercial Drive in 2018.)
When the Straight reached Sharma by phone, he attributed his company’s success to good karma.
“We did some charity,” Sharma said. “We gave free food to people who were positive for COVID. We fed the first responders really nicely.”
After opening both of his newer locations, he said that they experienced a booming takeout business. That set the stage for these restaurants to thrive as more customers felt comfortable dining inside.
Bombay Kitchen + Bar enjoyed spectacular success in the 25th annual Golden Plates awards, which are chosen in an online ballot by readers of the Georgia Straight.
The South Granville location was voted best new restaurant. The chain’s eateries also won as the best on Commercial Drive and in South Granville.
Sharma credited his staff for “just nailing it” night after night.
“We offer a full package deal,” he said.
That includes an extensive selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes. Plus, Sharma family recipes are used in the Kuku Paka (coconut chicken), Prawn Zanzibar, spicy Lamb Kalya, and various vindaloo dishes, among other selections.
The South Granville and Commercial Drive locations remain open until 2 a.m., Thursdays through Saturdays, where diners can enjoy drinks made with Indian spices.
This helps explain why Bombay Kitchen + Bar’s Parul Duggal was voted best bartender in the Golden Plates. It’s a point of pride for Sharma in a city with so many accomplished mixologists.
The chain also received scads of second- and third-place finishes, including a tie for second in best Indian behind the perennial winner in this category, Vij’s.
The atmosphere in the dimly lit Bombay Kitchen + Bar is ultramodern, yet the food is very traditional, unlike some of the unusual offerings at Vij’s. Sharma also noted that his customers like the prices, where all of the entrées are priced below $20.
“The Stanley Theatre is nearby,” he said. “We welcome everyone in the neighbourhood.”
Sharma has been in the restaurant industry since the mid-1990s, opening the company’s first restaurant, Bombay Masala, on North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Avenue in 1999. It has since moved to the Park & Tilford shopping centre.
Since those days, the number of Indian dining establishments has increased astronomically. Broadcaster Shushma Datt recently did a count and determined that there are 518 Indian eateries in Metro Vancouver. Indian food is clearly a hit with the masses—and it’s why the Bombay Kitchen + Bar group CEO is thinking about expanding his chain.
“We’re looking for locations,” Sharma revealed. “We are working on getting into New West and Abbotsford.”