New expansions will give Winnipeggers a taste of 2 Brandon restaurants

Two restaurants in southwestern Manitoba’s largest city have cooked up expansions in the province’s capital.

Brandon’s the Chilli Chutney will open the doors of its second location, at 1663 Kenaston Blvd. in Winnipeg, around the start of May.

Owner Laxman Negi said expanding beyond Brandon —  a city with a population of just over 51,000 — into Winnipeg, with a population near 750,000, makes sense for him, and there’s a demand in the larger city for quality Indian street food.

“Winnipeg has a bigger market,” Negi said. “In the restaurant business … if people like your food, you can expand.”

His restaurant is not alone in trying to grow its customer base — Brandon’s Pizza Express & Submarine opened its own Winnipeg location in February.

Negi has been a part of the Chilli Chutney since it opened in 2005, working first as a chef and then taking ownership in 2011. 

The new restaurant will be run by his longtime friend, business partner and chef Sarvesh Sheni, and Negi’s nephew, Rahul Negi. The Winnipeg location will have a buffet and an a la carte menu, and will also offer catering.

A man gives a thumbs up in front a sign announcing a restaurant opening.
Sarvesh Sheni stands outside the new Chilli Chutney location at 1663 Kenaston Blvd. in Winnipeg, which he’ll help run. (Submitted by Laxman Negi)

The restaurant business is always challenging, Laxman Negi said, “but if you have good people around you … good chefs and even like family members, you always trust them and they can always help you out to raise your business.”

Pizza Express president Tony Vasilarakis says expanding to Winnipeg was also the next logical step for his business, which has become well established in Brandon since opening there in 1982.

The Vasilarakis family also had a couple of restaurants in Winnipeg in the 1990s. 

“It’s a bigger market and there’s a lot of people that remember us from when we had our stores here [in Winnipeg],” Vasilarakis said.

“We started out quite busy” at the new restaurant, which opened in early February at 3116 Roblin Blvd., he said.

Two men stand smilling wearing black t-shirts.
Brandon’s Tony Vasilarakis, right, and his dad, Gus Vasilarakis, opened a second Pizza Express & Submarine location in Winnipeg in February. (Submitted by Tony Vasilarakis)

Vasilarakis says he’s hopeful the province takes notice of the expanding Brandon businesses, and recognizes the economic clout of Manitoba’s second-largest city.

Brandon Chamber of Commerce president Tanya LaBuick says there are many reasons to be optimistic about her city’s business community.

“There’s lots to celebrate, lots to shine a light on for how much work people are doing … like the expansion of Pizza Express and Chilli Chutney,” she said.

Those public-facing businesses are an opportunity to showcase Brandon as a major player in the provincial economy, LaBuick said. When entrepreneurs see other Brandon businesses succeeding, it can encourage them to set up shop in the city too.

“It shows us as a stable place to set down roots … in a secure way, so that you would feel comfortable in growing or expanding,” LaBuick said.

“It’s championing ourselves a little bit, being a little bit more vocal about all that we provide and have, not only to the province but to the citizens of our city.”

A person walks out of a blue building carrying pizza boxes.
Pizza Express opened in the Wheat City in 1982. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Growth in a city can be described as a snowball, “gathering size and momentum” that relies on having a range of different businesses in the community, says Lindsay McLachlan, an assistant professor in business administration at Brandon University. 

As Brandon’s population grows, so does demand for different types of businesses that can meet the population’s needs, making the city a more important player in the province’s economy, she said.

“We see in Brandon lots of successful local, independently owned businesses thriving next to chain businesses,” McLachlan said. “You can find a balance.”

Looking to the future

Vasilarakis said Winnipeg presents a significantly more competitive market, with “at least a pizza restaurant or another restaurant on every single corner.” 

But he hopes the longevity of his Brandon restaurant, and “food everyone seems to really enjoy,” will help the Winnipeg location thrive.

The front of a restaurant with an illuminated sign reading "Pizza Express and Submarine" is shown.
Vasilarakis says Pizza Express & Submarine has been busy at its new Winnipeg location based on word of mouth and having a brand that was already known in the city. (Submitted by Tony Vasilarakis)

Negi said Brandon served as a prime training ground on how to make a mark in a community. When Chilli Chutney first opened in Brandon, there were no other Indian restaurants in the city — he would often have to educate people about what Indian food was.

But over the years, that’s changed.

“It just got really popular … because [before], people had to drive from Brandon to Winnipeg if people like to eat East Indian food,” Negi said.

It takes confidence for an owner to start a new business, said Negi, but he believes he can translate his experience in Brandon to the new Winnipeg business.

“I always tell people the Chilli Chutney was born and brought up in Brandon, and we are expanding to Winnipeg.”

A man dressed in black stands smilling in an Indian restaurant.
Negi says he’s confident he can translate the success of his Brandon restaurant to the new Winnipeg location. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

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