Manjit Singh and his wife Balwinder Kaur recently invested $100,000 to upgrade the kitchen at Sitara Indian Cuisine and quadruple the seating capacity.
“When we opened in 2012, we didn’t know how busy we would be,” says Singh. “We didn’t know if we would make it or not, but we feel we are a huge success story.”
The couple was health-care providers working in Port Huron and living in Sarnia when they decided to open Sitara on London Road.
Neither had restaurant experience but were determined to introduce authentic Indian food to the local community.
The risk of a small business meant they both kept their health-care jobs, splitting their time between Port Huron and their restaurant.
In the early years, finding and keeping a qualified chef proved a challenge and Singh found himself doing much of the cooking.
But the response to Sitara’s food, service and the couple’s determination to be a community partner are paying off.
Two years ago, Kaur quit her job and began working full time at the restaurant.
Singh, who worked 50 hours a week across the river when Sitara opened, now works about 16 hours a week there. The rest of his time is devoted to the family business.
“Sarnians are appreciating something different,” he said, estimating that every day two to three families who have never tried Indian food eat at Sitara.
“They try it and learn it is not necessarily hot and spicy as they thought,” Singh said. “We have a lot of repeat customers.” Butter chicken is their top seller.
Four months ago, the restaurant’s popularity convinced the couple to renovate a large adjacent space, which is used for bigger parties, special events and meetings. The original dining room has been redecorated and the seating expanded.
Sitara has jumped from a 30-seat capacity to 120.
An expensive part of the renovation was a kitchen expansion that doubled the cooking space and added a walk-in cooler.
“We never thought we’d need that,” said Singh.
His days of struggling to attract and keep a chef specializing in Indian cuisine appear to be over. Sitara now employs two full-time chefs, Nitin Mehra and Adityea Kumar.
Cooking students from Lambton College frequently work or do co-ops there.
Singh is proud of the fact TripAdvisor lists Sitara as Sarnia’s number one restaurant out of 142. TripAdvisor gives Sitara a 4.5/5 star rating and 211/286 reviews say it’s excellent.
Aside from food and service, Singh attributes his success to a belief the restaurant needs to contribute to the community. From day one, he participated in charitable events.
“People see us out in the community and they want to support us,” he said.
Sitara Indian Cuisine in the Trevi Plaza at 1308 London Rd. is open Mondays 4:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.; Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. Sunday dinner is planned starting in May.
Dine in, take out and catering. Call 519-491-5650.
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