Family's Gujarati food business in Scarborough a success after 70 years


Ugandan dictator Idi Amin forced Maganlal Sheth to leave his home behind.

Amin’s mass expulsion of Asians — including thousands of Gujarati Indian origin — was Uganda’s loss but Toronto’s gain: it led to Sheth recreating his family business in Canada, where it’s seen lasting success.

Surati Sweet Mart moved five years ago to 300 Middlefield Rd. in Scarborough, where its factory, bakery, and retail store selling Gujarati vegetarian food share a building.

Sheth, who lived to see it, came to work daily until he was 90.

“He loved to feed people. That was his thing,” said Shalini Sheth, Surati’s operations manager and Sheth’s granddaughter.

At first, Sheth worked factory jobs and babysat, but he was “a very sociable man and he got bored very quickly.”

When friends heard he made Gujarati food in his apartment kitchen, Sheth started to take orders.

The business he began with an older brother in Uganda 70 years ago was reborn on Keele Street in 1981.

Today, 150 people work at Surati on Middlefield, and 30 more at four distributors in the U.S.

Surati products are in major Canadian grocery stories and television host Andrew Zimmern says the company’s samosas are the best he’s tasted.

Everything at Surati is vegetarian and egg-free, though not vegan. Shalini said the family simply grew up vegetarian, though “we always had a hard time finding food that we would be able to eat” and didn’t compromise on flavour.

People line up on weekends, she said, for jalebi, orange and white mini-funnel cakes, and traditional Gujarati fafda, a crunchy flatbread made with chickpea flour and spices eaten with cabbage and carrot slaw. “It’s a very popular breakfast item.”

People also come for curries, rotis, pakoras, sweets, Indian teas and pickles as well as kachori, a hard-shelled flour ball, “almost like a dumpling,” filled with spices and lentils or pigeon peas.

Now that Indian food isn’t just for Indians anymore, Shalini added, Surati is seeing more diversity in its customers.

It just added Thai chili and sriracha, and cheddar jalapeno flavours to its snack selection.