After owning and operating a diner-style restaurant for 20 years, selling it to train in fine dining establishments and then going on to cater private events, it's fair to say Geeta Patel is a master of the culinary world.
Her knowledge doesn't end there. This coming January marks the three-year anniversary of opening her very own food truck, Tikka Tomato.
Tikka Tomato serves high quality Indian dishes fused with popular Canadian cuisine. Their Bombay poutine, topped with authentic butter chicken, melted cheese and yogurt crema, is amongst the most unique.
Patel, who grew up in an Indian household, first developed a passion for cooking through helping her mother in the kitchen. These initial encounters with food and flavour are what inspired the truck’s menu.
“I like to go the traditional way,” Patel says. “The spices are ground at home, so that makes a difference — they’re more potent.”
This authenticity and hominess is reflected in more than just the business’ food. Her son, a professional graphic artist, designed the truck along with all of the company’s web and social media presence.
For the truck’s exterior, Patel was influenced by brightly coloured Indian patchwork quilts, which her son was able to bring to life.
“We get so many comments on the truck,” she says. “He’s really good at what he does.”
Patel considers the truck to be a mobile kitchen and an extension of her catering business. The more catering she did, the more she realized she needed an industrial kitchen that was clean, reliable and customized to her needs.
In the midst of these concerns and growing success of the catering business, Patel’s husband was laid off. Rather than sit in despair, she decided to take it upon herself to fulfill one of her long term goals — opening a food truck.
“We bought a truck that was just a delivery truck — it was totally empty, dirty, everything,” Patel says. “We cleaned it up, got it retrofitted and that's how we started.”
It’s this drive and determination that makes Tikka Tomato the business it is today. People come to the truck to get a taste of familiarity or even to try something new. Patel hopes people who have not had access to flavours like Tikka Tomato’s can find comfort in their unfamiliarity.
“We come across people all the time that are a little leery, a little scared, so we just tell them what the ingredients are,” she says.
Since operating on Western University campus for the first time this year, the truck has received an overwhelmingly positive response.
There have been times where students have bought something, ate it and came straight back to get the same thing to take home. The tandoori chicken wraps and classic butter chicken have been the most popular.
“I had one student, she had never tried Indian food at all and she tried the aloo gobi,” says Patel. “She sent me a message and she said it was phenomenal, she just loved it so much.”
Upon reflection of her experience at the university and the past three years, Patel has no regrets in entering the local food truck scene.
“I didn't want to go into the bricks and mortar again,” she says. “I thought, instead of people coming to us, we can go to the people.”