Newcomer launches pair of franchises in Flour Mill

From international student to entrepreneur, Gurkirat Sekhon says he couldn’t imagine starting a business anywhere other than Sudbury.

The soon-to-be Canadian citizen recently opened two franchises, within the same unit, a concept he hopes to expand within the city soon.

Pita Land, a Mideast urban kitchen, and Mo’Cha Bubble Tea, a bubble tea and beverage store, opened earlier this month on Notre Dame Avenue, taking over the former Pet Save Retail thrift store. The two dine-in restaurants are the first under the franchises’ banner to open north of Barrie.

“I like Sudbury — even if I go visit the GTA, in a few days I want to come back,” said Sekhon. “Sudbury is very nice, everyone is friendly and supportive. It’s a good place for an immigrant to start a life.”

The entrepreneur says Sudbury is the ideal city to not only build a life as an immigrant but start a business.

“Sudbury is growing fast,” he said. “There are two mines coming up and other business, there are many opportunities here.”

Sekhon arrived in Sudbury in 2019 as an international student at Cambrian College. He completed two programs, IT business analytics and project management, then obtained a work permit and toiled in three jobs in the retail and hospitality industries.

Originally from the Punjab state of India, Sekhon comes from a family of entrepreneurs; they own agricultural land, farm, and also operate gas stations and a kerosene business. Sekhon could have easily stayed home and played a role in one of these enterprises, but after a vacation to Canada with his family in 2017, he set his eyes on starting a new life abroad.

“I didn’t know a single person in Sudbury at the time,” he said about arriving in 2019. “My family was so worried about how I would manage in the winter.”

After graduation, and while working his three jobs, Sekhon says he wanted something of his own.

“I’ve always wanted to start a business, but I didn’t know which one,” he said.

“My first job was in the restaurant. They say, and so do all my friends, that your first job, it will be the business you go into.”

That doesn’t mean the decision came easily to Sekhon; the restaurant industry is not for the faint of heart, especially in a post-pandemic world. He thought about starting a flooring business, but the learning curve was steep. His father suggested operating a gas station, but the business is vastly different in Canada than what the family is familiar with in India, with a lower profit in this country, he said.

“I spent almost one-and-a-half years looking for a franchise,” he said. He would visit Toronto and try different restaurants, returning to Sudbury with a few prospects.

He finally settled on Pita Land and Mo’Cha Bubble Tea because they were new to the region and offered food that would appeal to a diverse crowd.

Pita Land serves shawarma, kebobs, souvlaki, all Halal, along with vegetarian dishes, flavoured by spices sourced from Turkey. All food is freshly prepared, and portions are generous. Mo’Cha Bubble Tea serves bubble tea, popular among youth, along with smoothies and Thai milk teas. The franchise sells a special ChariTEA drink where 100 per cent of profits go towards a local animal shelter. In Sekhon’s store, profits from this drink go to Pet Save.

While both restaurants are under one roof, each business is its own entity, with separate storage, coolers, cooking and cleaning stations along with staff, the majority of whom are newcomers.

“This is a very supportive neighbourhood,” said Sekhon. “We are happy to be in the Flour Mill. They come here in the evening and say they happy to have somewhere to eat.”

Sekhon wants to expand his business concept to the south end and New Sudbury, and eventually across Northern Ontario. He will take his oath of citizenship later this summer.

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

X: @SudburyStar

Laura Stradiotto, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star