East India Company, a downtown Winnipeg institution, has borne witness to its fair share of evolution over the years.
The 349 York Ave. location opened in 1993, but the restaurant business has been in the Mehra family’s fabric since the late ‘60s, seeing four generations assist with day-to-day operations.
Sachit Mehra has worked for the family business since he was 17, and quite literally grew up in front of many of the restaurant’s regular clientele – catching a lot of their milestones, as well.
“I’m now at the point where I’ve seen people meet, court, get married and have kids,” he says.
“I love meeting the people (and) seeing them again and again.”
Showing a knack for customer service early, Mehra was recognized as Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Asia Pacific Foundation when he was just 19.
As a current owner/manager of the acclaimed restaurant, and past chair of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, Mehra has become a bit of a local icon himself, allowing conversation to flow with customers and neighbours on topics as deep as downtown revitalization and community engagement – at the restaurant, at his son’s football games, and well, everywhere.
It was these types of interactions that influenced Mehra to consider a new venture and, perhaps, a new legacy for the Mehra family: “If my email inbox gets flooded with garbage concerns, something’s going on,” he explains.
Mehra is running for city council in St. Norbert this month.
If elected, it would be the end of his 21-year tenure at the East India Company.
“Having said that, people don’t have to worry. There will always be lots of Mehras here,” he assures. The second location of East India Company, rooted in Ottawa, even saw Mehras relocate to head the new establishment.
Though his departure from the local restaurant would perhaps be deemed bittersweet, Mehra made sure to get his family’s full support behind him before announcing his campaign.
“Their support has been absolutely breathtaking,” he says. “I couldn’t do it without their support and understanding.”
Even though his business is firmly planted in the hub of Winnipeg’s SHED district, Mehra’s home is in St. Norbert.
“It’s where I raised my family, it’s where I do my community work, and it’s where I get around.
“It’s an absolute gem,” he says.
His involvement with the restaurant and Downtown BIZ has given him a unique vantage point on his community, and he feels it’s a priority to ensure St. Norbert works cohesively with the city core. “This is the one part of the city we all share,” says Mehra, of the downtown. “This is where visitors come – it’s our city’s backyard.”
Mehra helped downtown Winnipeg welcome its second farmers’ market, linking many of the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market vendors with the opportunity for another day of revenue.
The synergy of providing the downtown neighbourhood with sustainable food (since there isn’t a downtown grocer) while benefiting the St. Norbert community is emblematic of the kind of activity Mehra wants to help stimulate.
“Decisions should never be made in spite of the city,” relays Mehra. “We don’t work as separate entities; we are one city.”
Though St. Norbert is simply a district within Winnipeg – the ward covers the St. Norbert community just outside the city’s perimeter, some of Fort Garry South and even St. Vital – it does have some very unique qualities.
For one, the median age in St. Norbert is 36 – so 38-year-old Mehra hovers right around the representative age.
Even his campaign team’s average age is “30 or less than,” he says. “We really do represent this next generation that’s coming in.”
As for that generation, he thinks he knows what they want.
“They’re plugged in and they do want to see change coming up.
“I think there’s a lot of change coming to city hall right now. No matter what happens… in decades, we haven’t seen this amount of change.”
• Giving back has been an important element for East India Company throughout its history. “(As) a local businessperson, I think I’m almost beholden to give back because it’s your community that supports you,” he says. “It’s just given me tremendous amounts of satisfaction.”
• With the East India Company’s annual Masala Mixer, Mehra has helped raise over $50,000 for the Victoria General Hospital.
• Mehra served on the 2015 Grey Cup Steering Committee, helping secure the game in the St. Norbert ward next year.
• Mehra and his wife, Caroline, helped create daycare spaces within a St. Norbert area school, an in-demand service due to the growing number of young families in the community.