Damini Mohan, founder of Mini Kitchen, discovers that sharing family recipes of the flavours of the Indian sub continent is good business.
by Mary Bailey
In 2012, with no previous experience in food service, Damini Mohan and her mother Renu started a farmers’ market stand featuring dishes that were served around their family table. They started with kebabs and chickpeas and pomegranate. Then came the samosas and their best-selling butter chicken and chana masala. Since then, Mini Kitchen has expanded to several farmers’ markets and a wholesale business, sharing the flavours of the Indian sub continent, Damini’s entreprenurial drive and Renu’s love of a good quip with a growing number of Mini Kitchen fans.
My first Mini Kitchen experience was at the City Market on 104 Street that first summer. Those two sassy women were fun. Then I lost them. It probably didn’t help that I had no idea what the stand was called. I just looked for Renu’s big smile.
Fast forward to 2017. While no longer at the downtown market, Mini Kitchen does a roaring business at the Callingwood, St. Albert and Southwest Edmonton Farmers’ Markets; the 124 Street Grand Market and farmers’ markets in Sherwood Park, Fort Saskatchewan and Red Deer. Their frozen items are also available through the Spud and Organic Box delivery services, Gibbon’s Food Town, Amaranth Foods and online at minikitchen.ca.
Damini’s advice to others dreaming of sharing their flavours?
“There is a lot of growth potential,” she says. “The markets are a lot of fun but it’s a lot of hard work too. And don’t compromise, stay true to what you are selling.”
“My brother came up with the name. Mini is my nickname,” says Damini. “We started in my home kitchen. I cooked one day a week then. Then we moved to a commercial kitchen space on Alberta Avenue, which we have outgrown. Now we cook six days a week with three to five people in production. We have just negotiated a location on the south side where we will have some retail space too.”
Mini Kitchen buys chicken from Viking, lentils and peas from southern Alberta, organic flour from Camrose and potatoes from Daniel Organics near Sangudo. Each batch of pakoras is 80 pounds — 50 pounds of potatoes, four kilo peas, two kilo spinach, four kilo carrots and four kilo onions; 1,500 samosas takes 300 pounds of potatoes and 15 kilo peas. That’s a lot of local produce.
“We made the decision a few years ago to source our ingredients as close to home as possible. We thought, ‘if we’re not buying local, why would anyone buy from us?’ Our costs went up 75 per cent. Most of our customers were supportive. People really want local — we have noticed that in the last three years. People want to buy Canadian.”