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Success story: Pavneet Singh shares the flavours of home with Blends & Curries

Young restauranteur opens several locations in just a few years and has big plans for expansion

Starting your own business is no small task, let alone when you are still a student—and an international one at that.

Pavneet Singh was studying chemical engineering at Cambrian College, with a full-time course load and in his fourth year, when he launched his business, Blends & Curries.

“There was definitely a need for Indian restaurants here. When I arrived in 2015 there weren’t many Indian restaurants in Sudbury; there was just one, downtown, and it was hard for students like us to board the bus, especially in winters, when we were craving food from home.”

They had to settle for Tim Horton’s or a slice of pizza. Singh couldn’t help but wonder, “How good would it be if students could enjoy the food they like on campus?”

“My main goal was to make Indian food affordable and easily accessible, so students could have it every day on campus. I saw my struggle and that everyone else was in the same boat. Where there’s a demand for something, that’s where the business opportunity lies,” he says.

Singh is from Jalandhar, Punjab, India. He did have a bit of prior experience with food. “I mainly used to follow my mom’s recipes when I used to cook at home, so that’s where the idea for the business came from,” he says.

While it may not be the work he thought he’d be doing after graduation, his family always knew that his intent was to stay and do something big in Canada. His business met with immediate success.

“When I came here, I missed the food from my home country and that’s where this idea came from. But I never ever imagined that I would get into the food industry and end up opening restaurants,” he says.

A helping hand

Several supports, including the Regional Business Centre and the Economic Development Department at the City of Greater Sudbury, helped him along the way.

When Singh was starting his final year of studies at Cambrian, he got support from the college, who helped him open the restaurant on campus. His next stop? The Regional Business Centre, where he worked closely with Kristen McKee and Josee Pharand. “They helped me incorporate a business and set up banking, as well as different things like how to set up the kitchen and get all the licenses required. They guided me through all of those processes.”

They were involved right from the beginning. “They helped me deal with the fire department, the health unit (I had no idea what the steps were), and they gave me a better understanding of how to register the business—should it be a corporation or just a single proprietorship, what’s good if you’re looking to expand, what kind of corporate structure we should set up,” he says.

“Our model is similar to what the big brands do, such as Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s; they produce centrally at one site and then ship to their stores. That’s where the cooks on location just finish up the product and serve it to the customers,” he explains.

Another great help was the Rural and Northern Immigration Program (RNIP). Singh and his business began to get more opportunities in other cities, but they needed a lot of labour in order make this happen. “We had to grow exponentially. We were having challenges getting a skilled workforce who had several years of experience under their belt with Indian cooking,” he says.

Singh wasn’t able to find enough candidates locally that he needed to support the company’s growth and he didn’t want to hire inexperienced workers. “That’s where the RNIP program came in and helped us. We are a Sudbury-based company. Our roots lie in Sudbury and that’s where we’re doing the majority of our production.”

The company has close to 50 employees now and several locations across Ontario. His goals for Blends & Curries include spreading across the country and expanding into the United States.

“I mostly see everything as a challenge. All the big brands and corporations, they all start from the US and then they come to Canada. We are the last to get those big businesses, small cities like us, so why not start up a small business in a small city like Sudbury and go all the way to the United States?”

“I want to get into the US market,” says Singh. “That’s my goal.”

Giving back

Feeding people and making sure everyone has enough to eat is important to Singh. Blends & Curries also runs Divine Meals, their in-house charity organization where they help a lot of students in need, as well as others who aren’t currently able to nourish themselves. They also work with the YMCA and try to help the college food bank however they can.

This whole experience—opening up his own restaurant and expanding to multiple locations in a relatively short time frame—has allowed Singh to do many things. He has meet a need in the community, been able to support his family members in moving to Sudbury (his whole family immigrated in 2018), created community and made Greater

Sudbury feel like home, for himself and many others. Perhaps most importantly, he has been able to support the new international students who are coming in, so they too can enjoy a taste of home.

“This whole experience has also allowed me to believe in myself. Coming to this county as an immigrant, that’s where everyone starts—from scratch. It’s the decisions and your willpower that makes the difference in the end,” he says.

What made the young entrepreneur decide to stay in Sudbury?

“It’s all about the feels-like-home thing. This is my comfort zone. It doesn’t matter wherever I am across the province, whenever I’m back in Sudbury I just feel relaxed,” he says. “It’s a great community, there’s less traffic, but we have all the amenities needed for day-to-day life. And this is where we started so why would I decide to go anywhere else? It has given me everything.”

He has advice for others who may be thinking about starting a business of their own.

“I want everyone to just believe in themselves and keep this in their minds. Everyone starts small; it’s the decisions and your willingness to grow that makes the difference in the end.”

Sudbury is a city that celebrates diversity, multiculturalism, and mutual respect for all of our citizens. The SLIP fosters an inclusive, engaging and collaborative environment with local stakeholders to identify issues, share solutions, build capacity and preserve collective memory for the purpose of ensuring the attraction, settlement, inclusion and retention of newcomers in the City of Greater Sudbury.

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