Back in 1982, Harmeet Kapur was driving a cab when he agreed to become a silent partner in one of the strangest concepts to ever hit the Edmonton culinary scene: an Indian restaurant.
A year later, he bought the failing Asian Village for $1 and renamed it. His mother, Surjit, ran the kitchen and he managed the rest. Since then, the New Asian Village has grown into a legend, adored by regulars across Edmonton and around the world, with four locations in Edmonton and two more opening soon.
Monica Levelle, Kapur’s eldest daughter and Executive Potato and Onion Peeler in the original restaurant, now runs the luxurious Saskatchewan Drive location overlooking the river valley. She remembers the first location, south of Whyte Avenue on 104th Street, which opened when she was eight, as well as their brief time across the street from the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market in the early 1990s. Harmeet, his mother, his wife and his three daughters all worked in the restaurant. However, the central location is where it all came together.
“I hear all the time how everyone benchmarks our food for what Indian food should taste like,” Levelle laughs. “I understand it, of course, since the butter chicken is our signature dish and I even have the original chef living upstairs!” When she talks about the other locations, however, a little sibling rivalry creeps into her voice.
In 1996, second daughter Sonia saw a cute guy, Ramesh Devangodi, working in the New Asian Village kitchen. She told her mom, “I’m going to marry that guy.” She was right. Within eight years, the couple opened up the second New Asian Village on the west end and the cute guy had become executive chef of the fledgling chain. In the last few months, the pair also opened a Manning Crossing New Asian Village in the northeast.
Two years ago, the youngest daughter finally realized her own dream. Veronica and her husband, Bobby Bhullar, opened a south side New Asian Village in the fiercely competitive 34th Avenue area.
“That is by far our busiest location,” admits Levelle. “It was the right time and the right place for the south side and, for the first time, we are seeing a lot of support from the Indian community.” Unfortunately, the idea of fine dining from an à la carte menu of dishes they could make at home never appealed to the older Indo-Canadian generation. However, according to Levelle, the younger generation can’t cook and they bring their parents to try the buffet. They usually come back.
Levelle mentions that inexpensive buffet and a new Bikaner line of low-sugar and low-fat Indian confections as very popular draws. In response to this popularity on the south side, Bhullar has just negotiated the lease for another space in the area.
As for Levelle, she obviously believes that a rolling pakora gathers no cardamom. Even as she manages the original location so dear to our hearts, she is taking on new opportunities.
In order to help manage her time and keep valuable employees in Alberta’s red-hot labour market, she took the revolutionary step of offering profit-sharing to her already fiercely loyal back-of-house staff. While she negotiates an $850 000 renovation of the Strathcona Drive site, she signed a lease for a New Asian Village in Sherwood Park. She is outfitting a mobile New Asian Village to visit downtown office blocks over the lunch hour. She works part time for CUPE 3911, in the field of Human Resources where she earned her degree, and raises two small children in whatever minutes she has left in a day. If it wasn’t obvoius, the Kapurs were raised with a serious work ethic.
Even as patriarch Harmeet drops casual mentions of his retirement, his girls know better. Levelle says that it will never happen. “He lies about wanting to retire,” she says, “but his heart is in this.” She says he has talked about moving to Calgary and opening a New Asian Village there.
Harmeet can still be regularly found in his beloved original location, welcoming old friends and new, buying people beers from the massive selection of 250 labels. He has stepped back from the daily decisions that must be made in the restaurants that bear his name, but Monica Levelle insists that everyone knows whose restaurants these are.
“Without him, I wouldn’t have this place—none of us would,” she says fondly. “I know that, and I respect him for what he has built.”
So do we, Monica. V
New Asian Village