Vikram Vij, owner of popular Vancouver Indian restaurants Vij’s and Rangoli, will be speaking April 2 at Small Business BC’s Cordova Street offices about his experiences as an entrepreneur. Business in Vancouver sat down with Vij, who also recently opened My Shanti in South Surrey, to get his perspective on Canadian entrepreneurialism, particularly for new immigrants.
Q: Did you aspire to entrepreneurship when you were living in India or Austria?
A: Every human being in that sense is an entrepreneur. Everyone wants to dance to their own music and sing their own tune if they can. I would never say that you learn to become an entrepreneur; you just have those traits. In India, even a small vendor who’s on the side streets and who is selling cigarettes and candies is an entrepreneur in their own way. My family, everyone was in business. We were never employees, we were always employers. Ever since a young child I’ve always wanted to have my own place, do my own things, my own way with my own style.
Q: What prompted you to start your own restaurant in Canada?
A: After working in the business for 20 years, one of the things I realized was that the cuisine and the culture [were] not represented. Everyone thought of Indian food as butter chicken and ethnic cuisine. It was really important to me for people to realize that my food and my cuisine is as complex as any other cuisine in the world, whether it is Italian or French or Californian. To bring the awareness of that was the reason why I decided to open a restaurant.
Q: Your Small Business BC Awards talk is about adversities faced by immigrant entrepreneurs. What are some examples of adversities you’ve faced?
A: One of the adversities was a self-afflicted adversity. I go out and spend more money than I have in my pocket, and then I run around like a madman trying to earn more money to pay off that debt. As soon as that debt is paid off, I go out and invest in something else and spend more money. I’m constantly cash-flow tight. I feel that I spend more than I can chew, but I love working hard in order to get to that goal. My adversity is self-inflicted adversity, which is to create stress and push the limits on my own.
Q: Is Canada conducive to entrepreneurialism for immigrants?
A: Absolutely. Canada is the best country for a young entrepreneur or a young immigrant to come to because you work hard and you work with honesty. This is a country that does not have a melting-pot attitude. This is a country where you can be part of this beautiful tapestry or this fabric, and you can create your own colour, your own way of being, but still be part of the mosaic of Canada. I definitely think Canada provides for not only just young entrepreneurs, but for any person in the world, the quality to succeed and be successful.
Q: What are some of the main pitfalls that immigrant entrepreneurs should look out for?
A: One of the biggest is [being] stereotyped. Do not fall into the same category of being an immigrant. Do not burn your bridges down. Respect people. Respect what they believe in, what they love doing and then you build on it. ... Do not try to take advantage of another human being or of the government, because this government has provided you with a ton of knowledge and an opportunity to be successful.
Q: How has the culture of entrepreneurialism changed since you first came to Canada?
A: People have become more confident in who they are as human beings. They’ve become a little more confident of their own being. If you are of Asian descent, you’re more confident being of Asian descent, you don’t have to be a part of the melting pot. What happens is nobody feels like they are a second-class citizen. Everybody feels that they are a part of this great country.
Q: What are your biggest successes?
A: That the people of Canada have accepted me and my style of food and cooking as a part of a benchmark. People have said this is the standard you should live by. … Not the wealth, not the fame, but the love that has been bestowed upon me by the people, I think, has been my greatest strength.
Q: What has been your biggest failure?
A: The production facility that I started, that I still have, that has taken five years to stand on its own feet. I thought that within two years, we’d be able to turn things around and make a lot of money on it, but that didn’t happen. It happened that it took five years to turn the thing around, and it is still not fully turned around. It has taken a lot of time to mature. It has turned around now. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable about it after five years, but the first five years have been really, really hard.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your career thus far?
A: There’s no pill to living your life in this world. There’s no one attribute to it. It’s just tenacity and how long can you carry it. It’s like going and doing yoga. You can do yoga for an hour or you can do yoga for three hours. You go for a run, you can run one kilometre or three. My challenge is that I’ve always wanted to keep running and running until I drop. And that’s my style. There’s no one lesson. … I would never say there’s one pill to become successful and famous. It’s a little bit of everything.
Q: You and your wife are both entrepreneurs. Has that influenced your children?
A: Kids are going to be their own individuals. It’s like an osmosis process. If they learn something from you and they pass it on, great. And if they don’t, then that’s their life. Our job is to give them the best platform possible so they can go out there and be successful.
So we send them to proper schools, educate them properly, take care of them and show them respect for other human beings. ... Whether they enter this business or anything else, all I’ve told my girls is, actually, “Do something that you believe in, that you’re passionate about. Don’t do anything for the sake of doing it.”