Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Butter chicken in every pot...

East India Company's Sachit Mehra working on campaign promises for run at city hall

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Sachit Mehra (back left) with his family, Caroline (back right), Mohit (front left) and Givan.


Sachit Mehra (back left) with his family, Caroline (back right), Mohit (front left) and Givan. Photo Store

It's a little early in the game for campaign promises.

If Sachit Mehra runs in this fall's civic election, and if he is fortunate enough to win a seat on council, the married father of two pledges to be, at the very least, one of the best chefs at city hall.

"For sure, if I can have one title that might be it," Mehra said with a laugh, shooing away his two dogs: a nine-year-old pug named Rocky and an 18-month-old Newfoundland who, when he's paying attention to something other than a scribe's coffee cup, answers to Wilson.

Mehra is the face of East India Company Pub & Eatery, the downtown institution his parents Kamal and Sudha opened in 1993 at 349 York Ave., kitty-corner to the RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre.

"I was 17 when I joined my mother and father full-time, right out of high school, and I haven't looked back since," he said, noting his father was only 19 years old when he established Maharaja on Sherbrook Avenue in 1968 -- arguably Winnipeg's first Indian restaurant. "The citizens here have been very good to my family; I really love this city for the way it has supported us and our various businesses."

Which leads us to our first question: is Mehra at all concerned constituents in his home riding of St. Norbert might vote against him in an effort to keep him right where they like him -- dishing out time-tested favourites like butter chicken, coconut shrimp and spiced cauliflower?

"I would tell them, 'please don't do that.' My mom and dad are still there -- I have a sister and two brothers. Don't worry. There are lots of Mehras to go around."

Mehra figures it was about a year ago when he seriously began considering a career in politics. His wife Caroline is having naan, err, none of that, however.

"This is what he has been wanting for as long as I've known him," she said, whispering "16" to her husband after he announces the couple has been married for 15 years. "He's always been very active in the community and I think that has been a catalyst for what he's always wanted to become. Serving on council would really be a dream come true for Sach."

"I firmly believe civic politicians are the most important (politicians) in people's everyday lives," said Mehra whose first go-round with a ballot box was in elementary school, when he ran (successfully) for class president. "Everything they do is connected to us in a very intimate way: when you drive down the street in the morning and the lights aren't on, who's responsible for that? If the garbage is still at the end of your driveway when you get home..."

Mehra grew up on Winnipeg Avenue, a block or so away from his parents' second restaurant, India Gardens. One of his fondest, childhood memories is manoeuvring his Big Wheel tricycle around table legs during the lunch hour, only slowing down to chat with the doctors and nurses who would venture over for a bite from the nearby Health Sciences Centre.

"We had very modest beginnings; I grew up in the West End so I appreciate the struggles of being a first generation immigrant," he said. "I've also infamously said I don't think any city councillor should make a decision in spite of the city for his or her ward. You can be the councillor for St. Norbert and make decisions for St. Norbert 100 per cent -- but never in spite of what's going on elsewhere."

Mehra has never been one to hide his political stripes; he's a past-president of the Young Liberals of Canada and he met Caroline when she was working for the late Reg Alcock, Liberal MP for Winnipeg South from 1993 to 2006.

"I think all parties have strong tenets and different people are drawn to different things," he said when he is asked why he gravitated towards the Grits. "For me, issues like health care, post-secondary education and immigration are all top of the list and the Liberal approach to those types of things has always made sense." (As for the current regime, Mehra said Justin Trudeau is "absolutely terrific" and -- when it comes to endorsements -- the national party leader's favourite dish at East India Company is "probably our curry shrimp; he seemed to really love that.")

The Mehra family moved to the St. Norbert ward 12 years ago. Mehra quickly became a familiar face in the neighborhood: his eldest boy patrols the defensive backfield for the Fort Garry Lions, he's a long-serving committee member for an area daycare and East India Company's annual benefit dinner, the Masala Mixer, has raised over $50,000 for Victoria General Hospital, located a stone's throw from the Mehra home in Waverley Heights.

"Whether it's on the sidelines at a football game or during a board meeting for the daycare, people have been coming up to me and talking about what's going on in the city," he said. "And I hear it in the restaurant, too. I see 150 to 200 people a day (there) and so many of them want to discuss things like snow removal or garbage pick-up or rapid transit.

"Six months ago when trust and transparency issues at city hall were top-of-mind for a lot of Winnipeggers it was incessant -- which tells me that people are plugged in to their politicians and want something that works."

Mehra must wait until June 30 to officially file his papers. If his home riding ever wanted to send a carbon copy of itself to send to 510 Main St., Mehra would be as good a bet as any. At 37, he is one year removed from the ward's median age of 36. Furthermore, in the last census, one in three residents listed something other than English as their first language.

"I speak four (languages) -- English, Punjabi, Hindi and French -- and Caroline speaks four, too: Czech, Polish, English and French, so we should have that covered."

Mehra also has a "good pair of Nikes" in the back of his closet -- something he'll need if he intends to follow through on a goal to knock on every door in the riding, which, in terms of area, is the largest of the city's 15 wards.

After officially declaring his candicacy, Mehra guesses he'll spend a good chunk of time discussing Debbie Downer issues like frozen water pipes and elephantine pot holes. But he hopes constituents will also hear him out as a civic booster, too.

"I look at what's going on in the city -- things like the Human Rights Museum, the expanded convention centre, Centrepoint, CentrePort -- and I think these are all phenomenal ideas.

"I believe Winnipeg truly is on the cusp of greatness -- that we're done pushing that boulder up the hill. Within 10 or 15 years we're going to be a major, metropolitan center with a population approaching one million people, which is going to require a whole new method of thinking. And that's what I'd like to be a part of."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2014 A1

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