"We saw a gap for an Indian restaurant in the Steveston community – and since we both love food and entertaining people, we thought, why not start a restaurant and bring people together with food"-Amin Sunderji, Owner of Ember Indian Kitchen
Ember Indian Kitchen was founded by an Indian couple Amin and Farida in 2017 after they retired from their flourishing furniture retail business, Yaletown Interiors. “We saw a gap for an Indian restaurant in the Steveston community – and since we both love food and entertaining people, we thought, why not start a restaurant and bring people together with food,” shares Amin.
Even before it was formally open to guests, Ember Indian Kitchen created a buzz in the community. “There was such anticipation for an aesthetically pleasing Indian restaurant in the community that we remained fully booked for several months following its opening,” adds Amin.
The restaurant’s menu, expertly crafted by Amin and Farida with the help of an Indian Ismaili food consultant with roots in East Africa, is extensive and diverse. In addition to classic Indian dishes like Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani, it also features African cuisine like Mishkaki Meats and Tilapia Fish, exposing guests to a unique culinary experience. “Both styles are authentic to our heritage, and our charcoal grills are a lighter take on Indian food which never fails to surprise first-time visitors,” adds Amin.
The menu offers a variety of chicken, beef, and lamb curries, along with vegetarian and vegan curries, with several gluten-free options. Some of the highly recommended dishes at the restaurant include Masala Halibut, an authentic Ismaili Indian fish infused with masala curry; Kuku Paka, an African-style charbroiled chicken simmered in a coconut cream sauce with herbs; and a host of Appetizers such as Cassava Fries, Lentil Fritters, Ember Samosas, and Eggplant/ Okra Fries.
The restaurant’s modern decor offers a cosmopolitan vibe, featuring sleek, minimalist elements with clean lines, neutral colours, and modern lighting with a dash of bling. “I’ve spent my whole life working in the retail furniture business, so I knew what I wanted, and my daughter, Saleema, helped in bringing that vision to life as she knew exactly what to source to achieve this elegant modern space,” shares Amin pointing to the reclaimed rustic wooden beams hanging from the ceiling which the father-daughter duo sourced locally that adds a west-coast feel to the place.
The restaurant’s standout feature is its copper-adorned bar, complete with charcoal pendant lamps with a copper lining. The leather bar stools lend a hint of sophistication to the ambience. Adding a personal touch, some walls feature artwork depicting the Nile River, peacocks, and giraffes reflecting Amin and Farida’s roots.
The picturesque waterfront view adds to the ambience and offers an unforgettable dining experience. The outdoor patio is covered to provide year-round seating and is perfect for taking in the views. It was especially popular during the pandemic as many preferred to dine outside. Taking advantage of the scenic views to create a memorable experience for guests, the restaurant hosts special events for up to 100 people, such as weddings, anniversaries, holiday parties, and corporate events. The busiest times for bookings are around the Christmas season and during the summer.
Another element that makes the experience memorable for the guests is the service. Ember has longstanding staff members working since its opening almost six years ago, including through the pandemic. The personalized service offers their guests a sense of familiarity, and Amin and Farida are almost always around the restaurant to make them feel welcome.
The restaurant offers take-out and saw a steep increase in demand for it during the pandemic. “I’m so happy that our food has been so well-received that we could weather the challenges of the pandemic even though we were still relatively new to the restaurant business. While the dining experience at the restaurant is unparalleled, our take-out service comes in as a close second,” adds Amin.
Amin was born and raised in Uganda, Africa, and worked in the family business that inspired him to maintain a strong work ethic deeply ingrained in him. He and his family moved to Canada as refugees in 1972 when the president of Uganda, ordered the expulsion of the Indian minority from the country, giving them 90 days to leave.
Upon arrival, he ended up in Kamloops and started working in a warehouse of a furniture retail store. From there, he gradually made his way up to sell on the floor in the evenings, then weekends, to becoming the Assistant Manager at the store, to finally heading the sales across Vancouver Island, including Victoria, Nanaimo and Campbell River.
In 1989, he finally started his own retail furniture operation, Yaletown Interiors, which his daughter and son-in-law now own. As retirement wasn’t for him, he decided to become a restaurateur. “I started this restaurant because my wife is a fabulous cook—we all love her cooking, and we wanted to share it with the world. One of the items on the menu is called ‘Nani’s Chutney’ because that’s how my grandchildren refer to it,” shares Amin enthusiastically.
Ember’s food is extremely popular with the locals in Steveston. “We could not have made it this far without their unfailing support. It’s through word of mouth that the restaurant has received the response that it has thus far,” he says, hoping to see people from other areas try out the restaurant in the future.
“We will always continue serving the Steveston community, as it is the heartbeat of Ember Indian Kitchen. However, we would love to invite people from other cities to come in and dine with us to experience the African Indian culinary flair,” says Amin.