Humans of Riverside: ROHIT’s Story

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“We were caught in the storm of COVID two months after opening and all our original hires left. But I decided that we would not shut down…not even for a day. I kept the doors open through deliveries and takeouts.”

Rohit Wadhawan

Business Owner, Indian Spice Room in Riverside

His Story:

We were caught in the storm of COVID two months after opening and all our original hires left. But I decided that we would not shut down…not even for a day. I kept the doors open through deliveries and take outs.

I am a first-time business owner with no prior experience in the restaurant or food industry. I’ve spent my 25-year career in the corporate world and until a year ago was a human resources director for Walmart in Canada.

However, I wanted to create something of my own – something that fascinates me. I was known as a people leader in the places I worked and always wanted to do something that would allow me to have one-on-one interaction with a variety of people. Food, and especially vegetarian and vegan food, has always interested me. Plus, I come from India where it’s all about spices, flavour and aroma. I noticed that in Toronto there was not a single Indian vegetarian restaurant serving food from across India. The Indian restaurants here serve either South Indian cuisine or they are the usual naan and curry restaurant. I wanted to offer the people of Riverside/Leslieville authentic Indian street food with mainly vegetarian and vegan options.

I opened Indian Spice Room at 717 1/2 Queen Street East but, while being in a good location, it had no kitchen. The previous eateries that occupied the space provided juices, smoothies, vegan sandwiches, etc. I needed a full-service kitchen and dine-in area so patrons could enjoy fresh, hot food while seated inside.

We created an all-vegetarian and vegan menu with more than 80 items (some gluten free) prepared right on site. After almost nine months of preparation – from signing the lease to construction, staffing and setting up apps – we finally opened on  December 18, 2019 .

The local community was supportive. Patrons tried the food and provided genuine feedback. Then, several months later, COVID happened. Like everyone else we were caught in the storm. All our original hires left, and we were at a critical stage in March. However, I decided that we would not shut down…not even for a day. Despite dismal sales in March and April we remained open for delivery and takeout. In fact, I used some of this downtime to fine tune the menu.

I am happy to report that we survived the pandemic and although still far from breaking even, it gives me satisfaction that we provided employment and continued to serve our customers every day.

Making Space: Art by Bareket Kezwer and Yshmael Cabana accompanying Rohit’s story on the west-facing window at 800 Queen Street East

Making Space: Art by Bareket Kezwer and Yshmael Cabana accompanying Rohit’s story on the west-facing window at 800 Queen Street East

About the Humans of Riverside: Giving Voice and Making Space for BIPOC” Storytelling Series:

The Riverside BIA – located along Toronto’s Queen Street East from the iconic bridge over the Don River to just past De Grassi St – is proud to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness with this story-telling series.

The project launched in summer 2020 as part of the Main Street Art Challenge and collaborated with writer and editor Grace Cameron, artists Bareket Kezwer (@bkez) and Yshmael Cabana (@_yshyshysh) to bring public art and launch this story-telling series in partnership with local businesses in the Riverside BIA. This project is supported by STEPS Initiative (@STEPSInitiative) as part of their Main Street Art Challenge.

The “Humans of Riverside: Giving Voice and Making Space for BIPOC” story-telling project makes physical space in storefront windows for BIPOC artists, and gives voice to stories from local BIPOC community members in Riverside. Each piece of art and each story shared has a bigger meaning that connects to the local business/window and to the BIPOC community member by sharing a link/QR code to their full story online. The Main Street Art Challenge brings this new and ongoing storytelling series to life, and the art produced for the challenge will continue to live virtually beyond the Main Street Art Challenge as part of the ongoing ‘Humans of Riverside‘ storytelling initiative.

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