behind the scenes
Behind the scenes with founder Gobi Nada and associate Asan Panchalingam, owner of Kothu labs in Perth
“The word kothu means ‘to chop,’” explains Gobi Nada, founder of Kothu Labs.
Originally from Sri Lanka, where Kothu is an authentic street food, Gobi left his home country 25 years ago because of the civil war.
“Back home you could constantly hear the street vendors at their carts chop, chop, chopping,” recalls Gobi who explains that Kothu is comprised of a base of roti, pasta, fries, chickpeas, noodles and rice, along with a variety of spices.
“Every serving can be a little bit different depending on what the customer wants in their Kothu,” says Gobi. “That’s where the term Lab comes from. There’s always an open invitation for the customer to experiment with their order.”
“You can modify your choice making it mild, medium or hot,” he says. “For instance, though you order yours with chicken, you can make it butter chicken or jerk chicken.”
Gobi, who is married with three children and works in the construction industry, had brought to Canada a dream of starting a franchise. When he decided to establish a Kothu Labs chain, Gobi began to look at sites outside the GTA.
“There are simply too many choices in Toronto,” he explains, “too many Sri Lankan restaurants. I wanted to look at smaller centres with a strong tourist base.”
By bringing Sri Lankan cuisine to the more rural areas of Eastern Ontario Gobi also hoped to share a part of himself and the culture of his homeland with others.
“Food is a way to connect,” explains Gobi.
Having learned about business from a hands-on approach, Gobi was anxious to pass his knowledge on to others, especially young entrepreneurs wanting to pursue a career in business.
While the initial plan was to open a Belleville location first, followed by Perth and then Niagara Falls, when Gobi and associate Asan Panchalingam came to town they decided that Perth would be the first location.
“We fell in love with the area and the European vibe,” says Gobi who points out that all of the employees, including the cooks and waitresses, are from the Perth area.
“The people here are super friendly,” he says.
As physical changes began at the restaurant, people soon became curious about what was going on.
“When we were doing the renovation, we had people pulling on the door handle asking when we’d be open,” said Gobi. “It’s a friendly town with supportive people.”
On Sept. 18, 2020, the first ever Kothu Labs opened its doors at 40 Foster St. in Perth.
Once opened the restaurant immediately began to source fresh ingredients for its house-made specialties. All of the food is prepared in front of the customer in the restaurant’s open kitchen with the Kothu team always looking to introduce new choices into their menu.
Early in the pandemic when travel abroad was curtailed and many Canadians were missing the flavour of international cuisine, Kothu Labs provided people in the Perth area with a culinary offering that helped transport them to another part of the world.
“We bring a different food,” says Asan Panchalingam, owner of the Perth location.
In addition to the customizable dishes, Kothu Labs offers versatile signature dishes as well. Common spices used in Sri Lankan cooking are coriander, cumin, turmeric, black pepper, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
Asan, who is also married with three children, has worked in the restaurant industry for 15 years and enjoys a variety of food, with his favourite Sri Lankan dish being rice & lamb curry.
In his free time, Asan enjoys playing cricket and reading books. He also loves cooking for his family and likes to see the joy on their faces as they devour his specialities.
While the decision to own a restaurant in Perth was a rewarding one for Asan, it came with a lot of sacrifices as his family still lives 3 hours away. For 5 days a week, Asan is in Perth, while he returns to his family on his days off.
During the pandemic, Kothu Labs has proven to be a welcome member of the Perth community, offering free meals to those in need and back-to-school kits for area children.
Although balancing work and home has been challenging for Asan, he’s grateful for the support he has found in the Perth community and is confident that his hard work & dedication will pay off.