Voices of Niagara: Prabhdeep Sandhu, Zaika Restaurant

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Prab Sandhu, interviewed at Zaika Restaurant on Third Street, Niagara Falls, New York, on 7th April, 2018 © Alan Gignoux

“My name is Prabhdeep Singh Sandhu and I run the Zaika Indian Cuisine Restaurant.  We took over 8 years ago, and we named it Zaika and we started a buffet type system, where you get a lunch and a dinner buffet throughout the summer.

I’m originally from India, from a small town on the border of the states of Punjab and Rajasthan.  I did my higher education in Canada College and I was working in Canada; then I met my wife and that’s how we decided to move here – because she was from here.  I have a passion for food, and the people who owned this restaurant before, they didn’t want to do it anymore, so I thought, let’s try something out.  I wanted to be in business, so that’s what I tried.

I’ve driven a cab for about three or four years.  Then I drove a truck for 7, 71/2 years – I was on the road, all across the United States.  Then I drove a cab again and then I started doing the restaurant business.  Before that I used to be in IT when I was in Canada, as a network admin.  Once I moved here in 2001, with the slowdown in the jobs and all that, I couldn’t find a job that paid well enough, that’s why I decided to drive a cab and it worked out pretty good.  Then I started driving a truck, it was a pretty nice experience, but I think that being in Niagara Falls and running a restaurant is where I fit in.

Business in Niagara Falls is seasonal, it’s very seasonal.  It totally depends on the Maid of the Mist.  The day the Maid of the Mist opens up, the restaurant fills up, this town is full; the day the Maid of the Mist shuts off, everything is off – the city is dead.  We just relax, stay at home, because we tried running it for three years in a row – in the wintertime, there’s not enough people.  Business in Niagara Falls, downtown especially, is strictly based on tourist customers.

Niagara Falls, Ontario, is the Las Vegas of Canada.  They spend a lot of money there: it’s much better, cleaner, and more activities.  They’ve got indoor water parks, and stuff like that…  Niagara Falls, New York, on the other side, it’s very nice, it’s got the parks right by the river, but large investment hasn’t come in…  There needs to be more activities.  I think money is not invested in the right projects.  If you go to Niagara Falls in the winter time, it’s beautiful, but a lot of people can’t go there because it’s so cold.  Having a covered, heated pathway, sidewalk, would really help Niagara Falls tourism, but I don’t think anybody is talking about it…

I would try to bring in more winter activities, all year round activities, like an indoor water park, a skating rink, maybe some zip lining; the other side has zip lining, we could do the same with the gorge in the summer.  Stuff like that would help increase the business.

Connectivity is one of the biggest issues.  The State Park is very well connected – if you want to visit the State Park, the different gorges, you can just hop on the green bus and it takes you all across the State Park, but it’s not connected to the city or downtown.  If those same busses could connect with downtown, I think it would be much better for business, it would be much better for connectivity, tourists can move around, not just at the Falls itself, but also in the city.

When I moved here in 2003 the casino was pretty new.  That was one of the biggest highlights, but right now you see there are a lot of hotels coming up, a lot of new construction going on, and much cleaner sidewalks have been made, and there are a lot of people taking interest in their community.  They are doing a Niagara clean-up drive, they’re giving out awards to people who keep their businesses clean.  It’s helping, it’s coming back.

Since Governor Cuomo put up the $1 billion dollar plan, a lot of businesses are coming down here, because they have a lot of benefits.  Before, the US customers would go and stay on the Canadian side, because they definitely have a better view, but they also have better hotels.  Now more hotels are coming up so a lot more people are staying on this side.  In the last year two years I think I have seen five new hotels come up.  So that means, even if a hotel is 300 rooms – times five that will be 1500 more rooms.

If people are staying here, they will be walking around more.  Another thing is the Niagara Falls Development Corporation, they’re trying to help out with the empire state credits – if you open up a business they give you the façade credits, they give you some money to make it look nicer.  People are showing interest; on Third Street up until last year there were only 3 or 4 businesses that were running – now you see at least 7 or 8 restaurants, so that’s quite a big plus.  I see more people walking on Third Street now, because of more businesses on Third Street.  So maybe they go for lunch someplace and they might decide walking by they want to have dinner here, so they could do that.  More foot traffic is always better.

There is a big Indian community in Niagara Falls now, there is an Indian temple – I think there are about 150 families or more.  The main reason for settling, for me personally, is I have a lot of family and friends that are in Canada, and similarly, a lot of people I know, they have family and friends living in Brampton or Canada.  So it’s kind of like being close to them, so if you have a family get together or something, it’s just a half an hour away and you can be there.

When we were in school in India, we used to open the books – I think it was general knowledge – and they would tell us Niagara Falls is one of the Wonders of the World, so everybody wanted to go to Niagara Falls.  Another thing, the reason there’s a lot of Indians in Niagara Falls in the summer, is because a lot of the cities like New Jersey, New York, Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, there’s a lot of Indian population there, even Toronto.  And whenever somebody comes to visit them, they surely want to go see Niagara Falls.  That’s why they make a day trip or overnight trip to Niagara Falls.”

This is an extract.  The full interview will shortly be available on video on You Tube.

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