So what is she doing running an Indian restaurant in Mission? Rooppreet Sohal takes a moment to reflect on this question.
“Respect for family and giving back”, she says. “My parents made sure that my brother and I received a university education. So when they needed us to help their project succeed, we had no hesitation. We wanted to give back to them what they had given to us”.
Rooppreet and her brother Avneet are the Canadian born children of Yadvinder and Pawittar Sohal, who emigrated from the Punjab region of India to British Columbia in the 1980’s. They settled in Mission, where the couple worked very hard to raise their family and provide an education for their kids. Avneet has graduated from UFV with a degree in criminology, and has been accepted into law school in the UK. Older sister Rooppreet developed a keen interest in women’s and children’s human rights issues, and chose to pursue her advanced degree at Texas State University. While there, she was attracted towards the discipline of international law. “TSU has a wonderful faculty of Political Science, especially the study of International law”, she says. “So my interest in woman’s rights, and my Indian heritage all came together in their program”.
Her thesis “The Exploitive Nature of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in India” was finished in June 2013. It is an extremely well researched exposure of a major social problem in India – “the world hub of prostitution related human trafficking” – and it instantly gained international interest. Rooppreet had been accepted into law school, and was about to continue her studies. And then life intervened.
“My parents fell on some hard times”, she says softly. “So I gave up my career – no actually I just postponed it – and came home to Mission. My mother is a wonderful cook, and we decided to use her knowledge to open up an Indian restaurant. We’ve never looked back”.
Rabab Indian Restaurant (the name refers to a plucked musical instrument closely associated with the Sikh faith) opened in February 2014. Situated in Mission’s Heritage Park Marketplace, it offers diners a cozy, clean and contemporary atmosphere, impeccable service and, first and foremost, wonderful food. “We chose this location because it’s new and fresh”, Rooppreet says. “Avneet and I handle the front end, and we hire cooks and kitchen staff. Our focus is on our local neighbourhood clientele, and we are constantly tailoring our menus to accommodate their tastes. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun as well”.
But isn’t the restaurant business extremely risky? Rooppreet smiles. “These first two years have been challenging”, she admits. “There are still difficulties, but you have to push through them. Timing and luck do count of course, but nothing beats hard work and determination”.
Indeed! Averaging 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week, the Sohal family has created a real gem in Mission’s culinary necklace. Last year the restaurant was nominated for a BC Business Excellence Award. “We didn’t win of course”, acknowledges Rooppreet, “But we are a brand new business, so just to be nominated was a real honour”.
And the customer reviews are exceptional! For example, on Trip Advisor, 38 of the 52 reviews to date are either “excellent” or “very good”, and comments like “best food ever”, or “exceptional customer service” are common.
In reality however, this story is less about an exceptional restaurant and much more about an exceptional family where loyalty, diversity, hard work and scrupulous attention to detail form the framework for their everyday lives. And with refugee stories currently filling the airwaves, it is also the quintessential Canadian success story that weaves through the fabric of what makes our country great. Rooppreet celebrates both her heritage and her diversity. “It’s a blessing to be part of two worlds”, she says . Her many friends and customers, who are part of her world, would wholeheartedly agree.