Delicious addition to city
Chilli Chutney Street Kitchen opening restaurant in Winnipeg
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Winnipeg’s last Swiss Chalet site, empty for more than a year, has new tenants: they’re from Brandon, and they’re bringing samosas.
“We’ll try our best to run the place, won’t we?” said Laxman Negi, owner of The Chilli Chutney Street Kitchen, with his business partner beside him.
They sat in a booth late April. Tables and chairs hadn’t yet arrived, and silver buffet platters went unfilled; still, Negi’s countdown to opening 1663 Kenaston Blvd. had begun.
Delivery of the East Indian cuisine has since started. The dine-in portion will begin after the tables and chairs arrive.
“We haven’t done anything crazy,” said Negi, looking around. “Just a small painting job.”
Even so, the move has been in the works for roughly a year, Negi said.
Swiss Chalet exited the 6,200-square-foot eatery in October 2021, marking its final closure in Winnipeg.
Negi, 42, had been considering a Winnipeg expansion for “a very long time.” The former rotisserie chicken hub fit his vision. After all, the kitchen was pretty new, he said.
The Chilli Chutney has been around for 18 years.
“I had to work really hard to educate people about Indian food in Brandon (when it opened),” said Negi, the restaurant’s head chef.
He’d attended a culinary arts school in Delhi, India before immigrating to Edmonton. After a stint at a Mexican restaurant, Negi moved to Brandon, following someone he’d met in Alberta. They’d had an idea for an Indian restaurant — would Negi care to join?
“Anything new in town, you have to push yourself hard,” Negi said.
Pre-Chilli Chutney, any Brandon resident eating Indian food was likely eating outside the city, Negi added.
He left to manage a St. Vital KFC in 2009, but he returned to buy The Chilli Chutney in 2011.
Then came growth — a move to a former Boston Pizza in the Westman region, bigger than the old site — and a weathering of pandemic-era lockdowns.
Now, the Brandon restaurant will continue operating alongside Winnipeg’s location, Negi said.
“We’ll focus more on the street food… People really like that food,” said Sarvesh Sahni, Negi’s business partner and manager of the Winnipeg eatery.
Sahni and Negi studied together in Delhi. East Indian street food — think samosas — and desserts, including from the West Bengal region, will be plentiful on Kenaston Boulevard, the chefs said.
Buffet and à la carte are on the menu. Most ingredients are made in house, from the doughs to the cottage cheese.
“The (operating) prices are going up, the minimum wages are going up, but at the same time, the food prices will go up too,” Negi said. “Everything will be balanced, at the end of the day.”
He only plans expansions that fit in the budget, he said. The Chilli Chutney Street Kitchen is renting from SmartCentres.
Brandon’s location employs up to 20 people. Negi expects more bodies will be required in Winnipeg, though he couldn’t give a specific number.
The cricket crowds alone could fill booths.
Negi plays cricket in the city, leaving Brandon at 5 a.m. on weekends for morning games in Assiniboine Park. There’s a “100 per cent” chance teams will stop by for grub, he believes.
The Chilli Chutney’s expansion comes just months after Pizza Express & Submarine’s return to Manitoba’s capital. The Brandon-based restaurant opened on Roblin Boulevard.
“It’s a great indicator of the strength of our local businesses and what they’re able to achieve, and the risk they’re interested in taking,” said Tanya LaBuick, president of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce.
Several Brandon companies have outposts in Winnipeg. However, it’s more common for businesses to first settle in Winnipeg before adding sites in Brandon, LaBuick noted.
Winnipeg had 749,607 residents in 2021, while Brandon held 51,313 residents, according to the latest census.
Business expansion out of Brandon is coming as the market stabilizes post-pandemic, LaBuick said.
“I think it’s awesome they’re opening in Winnipeg,” Christa Paluck said of The Chilli Chutney. “I can stop bugging my friends about trying it out.”
Paluck drives 45 minutes one-way, weekly, to visit the Brandon restaurant. The buffet is her family’s meeting place — they sit around their $12 lunches, she said.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.