The Rathour family moved to Canada in 2011 and brought not only their Indian cuisine with them, but also their family traditions and giving spirit.
Balwant Rathour is the owner of the Indian restaurant in Bradford, ‘Uttara Khand’. The name comes from his home state in northen India, also known as 'Devabhumi' (Land of the Gods).
Back home, life was very different. Rathour grew up in a house situated at the bottom of a mountain in a quaint village. He and his family lived on the upper level of their home while livestock resided on the lower level of a barn-style attachment.
Growing up, it was common for villagers to cook and share food with one another. Rathour explains that in India, people take care of one another, no matter what your background or religion.
“We never worry about money back home… it’s a trading system for sharing foods, cooking, growing everything together,” explains Rathour.
He and his family milked their own cows and made their own dairy products including milk and yogurt. Fresh fruits and vegetables were harvested and picked off the mountains and used to cook with over charcoal fires. Rathour grew up watching his grandfather, Bishan Singh, cook for the family and has fond memories of picking raspberries with his grandfather in the mountains.
When Rathour was just 21-years-old, he was betrothed to his wife Shanti, who was 18 at the time. The two had an arranged marriage and approximately five years later, Shanti became pregnant with their first-born daughter. During that time, Rathour left for Canada to find work to better support his new family.
He worked for several different restaurants in Toronto under a work permit for years while travelling back and forth to Uttara Khand to spend time with his wife and daughter. A year after his daughter was born, Shanti became pregnant with their second child, a son, and by 2011, Rathour had obtained his Canadian citizenship and relocated his wife and two children to Ontario permanently.
“I never live for my life… I live for them,” he says about his family.
While residing in Toronto with his family, Rathour briefly owned a restaurant, ‘Empire Grill Indian Cuisine’ but decided he wanted to move out of the city and relocate more north.
Through the help of real estate agent Jodi Hoffman, Rathour and his family relocated to Bradford last year where he opened his new restaurant, Uttara Khand, located in the heart of downtown Bradford on Holland Street near the four-corners.
Rathour opened his doors to the public at the worst time – during a pandemic lockdown. However, Rathour remained hopeful he and his staff would be able to thrive in the community once the flavours of his authentic Indian dishes hit the palettes of locals.
He and his staff diligently prepare every dish with hand-selected spices, ensuring all foods pack an explosion of flavour with every bite.
Rathour and his team were flourishing with take-out orders, but he wanted to connect more with the community and give back. He began offering free meals to those in need and jumped on board to support the local Bradford food bank with a collection can inside the restaurant.
“I believe in Karma,” shares Rathour. “I believe all people will help one another eventually.”
He looked for every opportunity to help others, whether it was donating food to families in need, or donating gift certificates to local organizations that help others in the community such as the BBT (Bradford Board of Trade) or the Out of the Cold Café.
Rathour goes the extra mile, like purchasing a new pair of winter boots for a local mother who could not afford new pair, or donating a freezer to another local mom who needed more storage during the lockdowns.
“Balwant has a knack for providing things for people who are in need but might be embarrassed to ask for help,” shares one regular customer.
Uttara Khand Indian restaurant is now officially a proud sponsor of the Out of the Cold Café, donating 20 free meals every week to the café for those in need of a hot meal but cannot afford one. Rathour's restaurant is also a participant of the new FIFE4LIFE program; a ‘pay-it-forward’ campaign that encourages people to pay for a meal in advance and place the receipt at the front door for anyone hungry.
Rathour credits much of his success to his staff who all work well together as a team.
“I have the best staff! They are amazing,” he said.
Kelly Jean, Uttara Khand's manager and head server, was looking for part time work when she stumbled upon the restaurant’s hiring ad. She started on Remembrance Day and quickly became full time.
“I’ve worked with a lot of small businesses before and working here [Uttara Khand] restores my faith in working for a small business… they have kids, they’re just trying to live like everyone else," she said.
Last month, on a typical busy Saturday night, while rushing orders for take-outs, Rathour accidently burned his hand with hot oil. While helping his kitchen staff finish up orders, he broke a giant slab of ice and rested the top of his hand on it, but unfortunately the burn was too bad, he needed to be rushed to hospital.
“His hand started to bubble up,” notes Jean, who was working the night of the accident. “I drove him to the hospital and during the drive there, Balwant was on the phone giving directions to staff to help them continue in the kitchen – he’s that dedicated!”
“I was lucky it happened to me!” adds Rathour, noting that safety in the kitchen is of the utmost importance but accidents do happen.
During ongoing treatments at the hospital, Rathour brought the staff and nurses food… for free. He has since recovered from his burn and is back in action at his restaurant.
To learn more about Uttara Khand Indian restaurant or view their online menu, visit: Uttara-Khand India – Indian Restaurant Bradford, Ontario (uttara-khand.ca).