King Place had been around for a while with a great reputation for serving quality Takeout Indian Food. We tried it and were sold immediately on the comfort food. The genial Mr. Butt was more than happy to oblige us with an interview. We were curious to know his secrets to success on Sherbourne.
Sadi: So how’s business going these days?
Meer: Very good.
Sadi: How long have you guys been here at this location?
Meer: Almost three years now.
S: Why did you decide to open a restaurant here?
M: Actually I’ve known this neighborhood for a long time. I used to have a restaurant here, in a gas station on the corner of Sherbourne and Richmond. The name was ‘King’s Palace’. I had a partnership there for about five years. After that I moved to Church and Bloor and I had a partnership there as well. And then after that, I decided, I had a good experience and I was a chef too, so I thought it was time to open up a restaurant by myself. I work hard, I had my own recipes, so I finished the partnership and decided to open one up myself.
Andrew: So speaking about your partnership at King’s Palace. Was that what you always wanted to do? Was that your original plan? Or was that the first time?
M: The first time…back home in Pakistan I had a good experience. My Dad and Grandfather had a catering business and a banquet hall. So I did catering back home when I was a kid, so I had experience and have worked with food before.
S: So how many years in total would you say you’ve been in the food business?
M: Here, almost like thirteen years now.
S: So about this location, what do you want people to know about your restaurant here?
M: First thing’s first. Everybody knows me. Everybody knew I was at King’s Palace. So the white people, the cab drivers, they’ve known me as Mr. Butt, with the funny name you know? After that, the Globe and Mail, they came in here to eat, and I never knew they came in. They came in two and a half years ago, ate here a couple of times, and he wrote an article. He mentioned everything, he knew that I had a new restaurant I opened up. He told me, ‘Your food is the best.’ After that, people read the article, they knew I was the guy who was at King’s Palace before, and so everybody followed me here. And now to this day, people are still coming in.
S: What’s the most popular dish here?
M: Mostly it’s five or six dishes. Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala, Kashmiri Chicken, Chili Chicken, my Nihari and my Haleem. These are the main ones.
S: What’s the one you’re most proud of serving?
M: Butter Chicken, Haleem, Nihari…mostly I cook. Mostly the main dishes I’m cooking. I have a chef too but mostly it’s me cooking it myself.
A: And are the most popular dishes your favorite dishes? What’s your favorite dish?
M: Haleem. Nihari. The Butter Chicken I don’t really eat, it’s a little sweet for me, but the white people…love. Everybody asks for Butter Chicken. Every day we have to make double. More than double compared to any other dish is sold.
S: So why did you decide to open a restaurant in Toronto?
M: Well I like the area. I’ve had it for almost five years now. I live in the neighborhood, just across the street.
A: So why did you choose to come to Toronto and not somewhere else?
M: So some of my friends were living here. He told me, ‘Come to Toronto, you’ll have a good restaurant business, since you have experience from back home. Better you come here see for yourself and decide.’ So I had a good experience with food businesses back home so that’s why I came here.
A: What do you think about Toronto? I know sometimes the neighborhood here is maybe not so safe. Do you ever experience trouble here?
M: Actually I know how to handle these people. First thing, I know there’s two or three shelters nearby. Secondly, the people only stand around and hang around outside. Nobody bothers me, if they come in, I say ‘Okay you can go outside.’ Nobody stays here, we have great, nice customers. Nobody really bothers me.
S: If you’re not at your restaurant here, what’s your favorite place to eat?
M: Believe me, I never go anywhere to eat. I eat everything here. I have so many dishes. Maybe one or two times a friend brings me pizza. I’ll be hanging around here and he’ll come to eat my food and he’ll bring pizza for me. Otherwise I have a lot of things here, so many dishes. I have more than fifty items! Especially Sunday, Monday I cook something, some goat, some Korma to eat for myself, something a bit special because I like it a little spicy. Anything I need myself or I’m craving, I just cook right here.
S: Do you read reviews, online? Do you guys pay attention to that sort of stuff?
M: Yeah I check sometimes, I read. I mean they’re okay, they’re good right now. I’m more looking to open another place, looking around for other locations. Right now actually, I don’t have any family members here. I’m trying to bring my nephew here so he can help me. Right now I only have a couple of people working with me. I love the business though you know? The food? I love cooking especially. Always I’m cooking. So I’m looking for another location too.
A: How did you learn to cook?
M: Back home. My mom taught me. And my Uncle. From the family business. Good business there, we still have it.
A: Do you remember what was the first thing you cooked?
M: Back home actually I never cooked the Butter Chicken, but here mostly it’s Butter Chicken here I cook. It’s those four five dishes here I love cooking. Nihari, Haleem, Butter Chicken, Kashmiri Chicken and the Pulao for the weekend. One weekend I make the Beef Pulao and one weekend I’ll make the Chicken Pulao. People love them. Now people know the weekend Special Pulao, they’re coming for the Pulao. The Globe and Mail mentioned it too, the Pulao. Those people tried it too.
S: Is there anything here that you haven’t served yet, that you’re curious, you want to try serving in the future?
M: So I’ve had so many dishes like that, that I’ve tried and made my own recipe, these people like it. My Shahi Chicken is like that.
A: So has business always been great? Have there been tough times?
M: Yeah, when I first started. Not too serious. Not a loss, but like…going even for the first couple of months. But after four or five months, the Globe and Mail came by, and then business became very good. And it’s still very good. So I’m happy.
S: Do you have a favorite customer?
M: Really, most people are my favorite customers. Everyone I try and treat like family. All are like friends and family members. I want them to be happy, enjoy the food.
S: What’s your favorite part about the job?
M: Most favorite is cooking.
S: What’s your least favorite part?
M: Actually…I like everything. It’s my own business you know? Really, I like everything. You know I work seven days? I never take a day off. I have a good time here you know? Good people coming and going. I’m always happy, taking care of the business. I work seven days a week, every day. Ten hours, twelve hours, sometimes fourteen hours.
S: Do you get enough sleep?
M: I sleep during the day time, so night time I can work. Every year I go back home for two months, six weeks for vacation. And then I go back to work, continuous. Never take a day off otherwise. But I’m happy. I’m okay.
S: If someone was going to start a new restaurant, what would you tell them?
M: I’d tell them ‘Okay, you can do it!’ But the first thing, very important, is experience. Especially for a restaurant. It’s important to have experience, otherwise it’s very hard to run a business. You have to know everything. How to cook, how to work with food, customers. All parts of it.
S: Are you worried if you open another location you’re going to have too much stress?
M: No, not at all. I’m okay. That’s why I’m looking for another location, I’m good.
S: I think that’s everything for us. Thank you for your time!
King Place Restaurant
236 Sherbourne St.