by Michael Abbey
I met with a very enthusiastic entrepreneur, no stranger to the cuisine of Southern India, Rajesh Kumar Tyagi, who lives in Montreal where Thanjai has an outlet on Avenue Van Horne. Thanjai opened in Montreal in 2012 with a 10-seat counter and since moving to more spacious quarters, business there has grown exponentially. The expansion led to the introduction of some dishes that are unique to Thanjai such as the tangy chicken 65, the crispy masala dosa, the fluffy idli and the fragrant Hyderabadi-style biryani. They offer North America’s only six-foot dosa, which can be ordered any time. Partners run the Ottawa establishment and Tyagi spends a number of days here each week. The restaurant has been open in Ottawa for about six months and they are pleased with the traffic and the acceptance by diners in the city.
Suresh Srinivasan manages the Ottawa location. Tyagi gave me some background on himself and his past and present ventures. “I am from the north part of India, not as far north as Punjab.” Kumaresan Muthukrishnan (Kumar), the original founder of Thanjai and co-owner of the Ottawa location, is from Chennai. Thanja, near Chennai, is the origin of this kind of food. Both Rajesh’s and Kumar’s time is split between Montreal and Ottawa. Tyagi mentioned, “I have taught at the MBA level at Concordia as well as the U of O.” He speaks a handful of India’s native languages, and shares his mastery of Hindi with many of his country folk. Thanjai in Montreal is one of the top three Indian eateries in that city. Before they opened on Third Avenue in Ottawa, some Ottawa clientele frequented his Montreal location.
I asked what separates Thanjai from the competition. Said Tyagi, “First, it is the variety of food. Variety is a big thing here. Many places settle on five to 10 dishes. Not Thanjai.” I browsed their menu as we chatted, seeing more than 50 offerings. There is a blend of southern food with some fare from Mumbai. “We combine ingredients from different parts of India,” Tyagi told me. I felt that if one were to miss something on their menu, it could indeed be there for the next visit. Taste is a huge differentiator for Thanjai, especially in some of the house specialties.
I mentioned that I found the local food very spicy when I was in Hyderabad. He assured me that Thanjai caters to all tastes and is especially sensitive to some diners’ discomfort with very hot spicy dishes. He is proud of how his clientele finds food on the menu with ingredients identical to what the locals eat at home in India. Thanjai is health conscious and makes an effort to cut down on some of the hidden components that are rich in fat and other not-so-healthy ingredients. They use the minimum amount possible, especially when adding oil and other calorie-rich ingredients.
Rajesh Tyagi is not new to Ottawa, as he was here from 1990 to 1996, living first in Sandy Hill, then off Parkdale while working at the NRC. I asked Tyagi about the Glebe BIA and suggested he take the lead in reaching out to this fine organization.
The price point is attractive to high school students who can eat for as little as $10 with common dishes such as chicken Marsala. “We are starting with food, drink and tax for under $15.” Tyagi mentioned, as this price point should be attractive to all. There’s a second storey with a handful of tables, though the main floor is wheelchair accessible thanks to Canada Post, with whom they share the building.
The local Indian community has embraced Thanjai and they are catering events frequently. Tyagi said proudly, “Community leaders meet monthly at Thanjai. We are very well connected with the community.” He believes all of the Indian restaurants in Ottawa are not in direct competition with Thanjai as Thanjai stands out from the crowd.
The theme that surfaced during our têtê-à-têtê about Thanjai was many fold. The foundation of their business is variety and attention to detail with the ingredients coupled with a commitment to giving their clientele a solid experience in South Indian cuisine. I could imagine walking out onto Third Avenue and mistaking a small two-door for a green and yellow rickshaw.
Michael Abbey is a retired high-tech professional and bridge enthusiast who writes about businesses for the Glebe Report. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Prefer Majors.