Meet Your Merchant: Kamal Mroke

By Jagdeesh Mann, Mata Press Service

Kamal Mroke went boldly where no Indo-Canadian restaurateur has gone before – Davie Street.
Today, five years later, the always smiling and gregarious Mroke has made his India Bistro restaurant  the darling of Vancouver’s west end and a must-stop for the likes of Twilight’s Robert Patterson and the crew of American Pie.
“People thought I was crazy when I first suggested opening an Indian restaurant on Davie street…it’s a different community, they said…seniors and gays…they won’t like the spicy stuff,”  said Mroke, 47.
“This July, it will be five years…nearly half of my customers are from the gay community and West End residents,” said the trailblazing restaurateur, who has been in the food business for close to three decades and whose brother, sister and nephews own 10 other Indian restaurants in the Lower Mainland.
Mroke’s success lies in the simple philosophy of being hands on and offering service with a smile – the latter which for some mysterious reason is a rarity in Vancouver’s Indian restaurant scene.
“Service with a smile is not a cliché…it’s the fundamental basis of my business…come to India Bistro hungry, leave India Bistro happy,” Mroke said, before rushing off to greet Peggy Morrison, a long time resident of Davie Village.
“India Bistro changed Davie Street…I have lived here for 30 years and this is the place I needed…The food is fantastic but this place is all about Kamal,” said Morrison, before settling down with her companion to choose from an exotic rainbow-coloured menu offering the culinary delights of India.
Like Morrison, the regulars at India Bistro are all familiar with Mroke’s signatures dishes of Lamb Methi which is lamb with dry fenugreek leaves and garlic blended with a special curry sauce, Dal Bukhara or slow cooked black lentils and Chicken Korma or chicken in a mild cashew curry sauce.
“We make it a point to explain what the food is and how it is cooked,” said Mroke.
The veteran restaurateur’s experience is telling in India Bistro, where a happy buzz bounces off the red-brick walls that are illuminated with hanging oil lamps which cast a pleasant light on the pillow-laden brocade settees. Think Persian pleasure palace with sizzling plates of tandoori chicken.
Mroke arrived in Vancouver from his native Punjab in the early 80’s and plunged himself into the restaurant business as a bus boy and dishwasher while going to school to become a chef.
His first business was a cafe in a North Vancouver motel in 1986 after which he operated restaurants in Calgary and Seattle which were frequented by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen.
In the Lower Mainland, Mroke had Handi in North Vancouver, Dawat in East Vancouver, Copper Chimney in Downtown Vancouver before opening India Bistro.
“Sometimes people call me the serial restaurateur,” said Mroke, whose wife Navneet, daughter and son all play a role in the family business.
Charity looms large in Mroke’s life and in his business.
At a corner of India Bistro, there is a green kettle, where patrons can drop off change for his charity effort called Natar Sewa Manch or People’s Eye Charity.
Using  whatever is in the kettle and pumping tens of thousands of their own dollars, Mroke and his pal  Surinder Kainth, a Burnaby mill worker make a trek back to their native Punjab in India every year to conduct eye camps for the poor.
Their efforts have repaired the vision of over 40,000 people over the last decade.
Next February, Mroke’s teenaged son and daughter will join their dad at the camp, which will provide thousands of subsistence farmers with corrective laser therapy and prescription eyeglasses.
“God has given me a lot, this is just a small way of giving something back,” said Mroke.
“The gratitude shown by these poor people is a very humbling experience…it fills my heart with joy…it makes me happy…it makes it all worthwhile,” said Mroke.
And making people happy, whether it is in India Bistro on Davie Street or in the villages of Punjab, is what Mroke is all about.

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