The family behind some of Perth’s best Indian restaurants are moving on ... from one successful venture to another, and another. Russell Quinn reports.
FANS of food from the sub-continent are a loyal bunch, often finding a favourite and returning again and again for ‘the best Indian outside of Mumbai’.
But what many local curry enthusiasts probably don’t realise is that some of Perth’s most popular Indian eateries have been owned and operated by one particular family.
Headed by experienced restaurateur Sid Grewal, the Grewal family is largely responsible for bringing the likes of 9 Mary’s, Chutney Mary’s, Maya Masala, Mela Indian Sweets, Balti Indian Restaurant and Cinnamon Club to Western Australia.
“I came to Perth 10 years ago and started off Maya Masala in Northbridge,” Mr Grewal told Gusto.
“What we were offering was good food that was reasonably priced, and a variety including Indian sweets, south Indian food and north Indian (food), which was an instant success.”
Before coming to WA, Mr Grewal and his wife, Stephanie, had established numerous successful hospitality operations on the east coast.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business since 1982 in Sydney,” he says.
“I had the best Indian restaurants in Sydney, my famous one was called Indian Experience in Circular Quay.”
Mr Grewal claims to be the first person in Australia to bring south Indian food to the masses.
“I was also the first person in Australia to do Indian sweets,” he says.
“I did that at Maya Indian Sweets, another venture in Surrey Hills in Sydney, in 1989.
“And then I grew to about 20 outlets in about a year, with outlets in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne.”
In the 1990s, amid growing competition in the crowded Sydney market, Mr Grewal recognised the opportunities in Western Australia and moved his family to Perth.
After establishing Maya Masala in Northbridge and growing the operation, Mr Grewal says he dismissed the idea of franchising Maya Masala, citing a limited Indian population in WA and his earlier experience operating numerous outlets in Sydney as key determining factors.
“We found it in Sydney, when we had all those 20 outlets, the bad ones were taking the money from the good ones,” he says. “I didn’t do the franchising; the new owners (of Maya Masala) did that.”
He sold Maya Masala in 2003 and then launched Mela Indian Sweets on William Street in Northbridge a year later with his son Sacha.
Meanwhile, in 2002, Mr Grewal paired up with fellow restaurateur Murray Kimber to open Chutney Mary’s in Subiaco, which led the duo to open Nine Mary’s in Perth the next year.
The friends and business partners shared staff between the two venues before they amicably agreed to split the ownership of the two Mary’s in 2006 with Mr Grewal retaining Nine Mary’s and Mr Kimber controlling Chutney Mary’s.
“We did transfer staff, we even do that now; when we are short we take from them and when they’re short they take from us,” Mr Grewal says.
A consistent motivator for Mr Grewal is ownership of the property in which he operates, indicating he purchased the Nine Mary’s freehold property in 2003 while Chutney Mary’s remained a leasehold property.
After Nine Mary’s the Grewal family embarked on its next project, establishing Cinnamon Club on Carr Place in Leederville almost six years ago.
“We’ve sold that as well, about two and a half years ago, as it was a leasehold property,” he says.
Mr Grewal then bought a freehold property in St Georges Terrace opposite the Duxton Hotel where his son Aaron set up Balti Indian Restaurant.
“It’s not a burden having a mortgage because what happens is you have 5 per cent increases on the other (lease) side and the mortgage is consistent,” Mr Grewal explains.
Three weeks ago Nine Mary’s reopened after a two month, $700,000 refurbishment, which significantly improved the bar and the restaurant’s overall ambience to suit the area’s growing corporate clientele.
“Seven years ago when I bought Nine Mary’s I did a redevelopment. The first time we spent about $700,000, this refurbishment has cost us about another $700,000,” he says.
Mr Grewal also spent significant time and money enhancing the acoustics of the venue, suggesting after-work drinks at other city spots are too noisy.
“We’re really very happy with the result; it’s doubled its turnover in the last three weeks,” he says.
Although success seems to be hereditary in the Grewal family, Mr Grewal is still wary of taking on too much at once.
“I discourage my sons from opening more restaurants, I think you should do one and do it properly,” he says.
“One bad one takes the profit of about three good ones, so why would you do it?”