Absence makes the appetite grow stronger



OK, let’s try that again.

To say it’s been an interesting first four years for Barbeque Hut-Pakistani Grill at 435 Notre Dame Ave. is a bit of an understatement.

Winnipeg’s first-ever authentic Pakistani dining spot was an out-of-the-box hit when it began welcoming customers in the spring of 2018, largely owing to menu selections described at the time by Free Press restaurant critic Alison Gillmor as “fresh and very good,” “beautifully sauced” and, in regards to a spicy cheese dish dubbed paneer kadahi, “an absolute standout.”

She wasn’t the only one singing the West End locale’s praises; throughout that year and the next, online review sites were rife with recommendations for owner Jehangir Khan’s take on traditional offerings such as fish tikka, Lahori mutton kahari and chicken haandi, the latter prepared in an earthen clay pot Khan brought with him when he moved to Canada from the South Asian nation in 2007.

Things took a turn, however, after COVID-19 reared its head a little over two years ago. Forced to close for in-person dining, Khan, a married father of five, opted to take his family to Pakistan for a visit. His children had never met their grandparents and numerous cousins ​​face-to-face, so he figured he’d wait out what he was anticipating would be a brief closure there, versus here.


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After opening a halal meat counter, where he sold marinated meats, Jehangir Khan decided to also do the cooking himself and so opened Barbeque Hut-Pakistani Grill. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

For a litany of reasons, one of which was international travel restrictions, their stay turned from weeks into months. By the time Khan finally flew back to Winnipeg in early April, it had been two years since he’d been at his restaurant, which remained open during his absence for pick-up and delivery.

Unfortunately, quality suffered while he was gone, a set of circumstances he is intent on rectifying, now that’s back at the helm.

“It was hard to keep the doors open while I was away, we lost tons of money, but thank God (restrictions) are over so we can start welcoming customers inside again,” says Khan, whose return to work coincided with Ramadan, the Muslim holy month marked by a dawn-to-dusk fast that concludes this weekend. (Khan laughs, saying no, he’s used to it, when asked how tough it is to be around food all day — he’s been offering an all-you-can-eat, end-of-day special during Ramadan — when he can’ t touch a morsel until sunset, which fell at 8:29 pm the day we visited.)


Barbeque Hut-Pakistani Grill has been in business for four years, but is undergoing a kind of post-COVID rebirth.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>
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<p>Barbeque Hut-Pakistani Grill has been in business for four years, but is undergoing a kind of post-COVID rebirth.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>
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<p>“There’s no arguing ours was the industry most affected by the virus and now that we’re back, we’re hoping for the best, not just for our restaurant but for all the restaurants that thought.”			</p>
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<p>Khan, 49, grew up in a mountainous region in northwest Pakistan near Abbottabad, a city of 245,000.  He did a fair bit of traveling in his 20s — he spent time living and working in Singapore and Dubai — and became convinced Winnipeg was the right fit for him when he initially visited in 2004, at the behest of a friend from back home who’ d relocated here already.			</p>
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Jehangir Khan's Barbeque Hut-Pakistani Grill is offering an end-of-Ramadan, Pakistani breakfast on May 7, beginning at 10 am (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>
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<p>Jehangir Khan’s Barbeque Hut-Pakistani Grill is offering an end-of-Ramadan, Pakistani breakfast on May 7, beginning at 10 am (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>
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<p>“I’ve never been a big fan of larger cities like Toronto or Vancouver. In Winnipeg, you can step outside and breathe the air, without all the tall buildings blocking your view of the sky,” he says, shaking his head in regards to our frigid climate.  Like the rest of us, he could have done with a little less of the white stuff this past winter, but snow and cold weather were commonplace where he grew up, with the mercury often dipping into the -10 range in December and January.			</p>
<p>The first thing Khan did after moving here permanently in March 2007 was go job hunting.  He tried his hand at a number of occupations before settling in at a manufacturing plant that built hydraulic cylinders.  He enjoyed the physicality of what he was doing and within a month or two, he was regularly signing up for overtime, which seemingly rubbed some of his fellow employees the wrong way.			</p>
<p>He was making them look bad by working too hard, they said over and over;  also, he was giving all his money to the government, they told him, referring to the amount of income tax that was being deducted from his pay.  He ultimately quit and, following a year-long stint as a house framer, decided his best course of action would be to go into business for himself, a dream he’d had since he was a kid.			</p>
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For Yasmeen Naeem, Ibrahim Name and Sughrain Umar, dining at Barbeque Hut-Pakistani Grill is often a family affair.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>
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<p>For Yasmeen Naeem, Ibrahim Name and Sughrain Umar, dining at Barbeque Hut-Pakistani Grill is often a family affair.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>
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<p>Something Khan had noticed about Winnipeg was how difficult it was to find fresh halal meat here, meat that is certified permissible for Muslims to consume.  There were a couple shops that sold frozen cuts, but that paled in comparison to what he’d grown used to eating in Pakistan.			</p>
<p>There was an ethnic grocery store at 1052 St.  Mary’s Rd.  about 10 minutes from where he lived.  In the summer of 2010, he approached the owner, with whom he’d become acquainted, with a proposition: what if he opened a western-style butcher shop inside the store that offered halal meat exclusively?  The proprietor welcomed the idea and, after working with the provincial government to find farmers who could properly supply him, Khan unveiled his meat counter that fall.  He purchased the store outright in 2012, and renamed it Grocery Bazar.			</p>
<p>Always thinking, Khan next came to the realization that despite Winnipeg’s reputation for being culturally diverse in the way of dining spots, there wasn’t anywhere to go for authentic Pakistani cuisine.  Since he was already pre-marinating cuts of meat at the grocery store and had a lengthy file of rub recipes, he thought he would take things one step further, by establishing a restaurant of his own, where he could showcase the food of his homeland .			</p>
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The aroma of fresh-baked naan bread is likely the first impression at Barbeque Hut-Pakistani Grill.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>
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<p>The aroma of fresh-baked naan bread is likely the first impression at Barbeque Hut-Pakistani Grill.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>
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<p>Like we mentioned earlier, Barbeque Hut-Pakistani Grill opened for business just over four years ago.  The first thing customers are greeted by when they enter the 80-seat operation — in addition to the aroma of freshly baked naan — is a brightly painted, three-wheel rickshaw, imported from Pakistan.  (You don’t want to know, Khan replies, when asked how much it costs to ship not one, but three rickshaws — there are two more in an adjoining banquet room — from overseas.)			</p>
<p>In addition to the vehicles — don’t worry, the motors have been removed — Khan also brought over a dozen or so cultural chairs, each of which features colourful, eye-catching spindles, turned on a lathe to give the appearance of interconnecting balls and beads.			</p>
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“And on these walls are photos of some of my country’s regions,” Khan says proudly, waving his arm in front of blown-up scenes of Islamabad, Karachi and K2, the world’s second-highest mountain. “Lots of people, especially the young ones, enjoy getting their picture taken in front of these scenes, or in the rickshaws.”


Amandeep Kaur, a worker at Barbeque Hut removes naan from the oven.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>
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<p>Amandeep Kaur, a worker at Barbeque Hut removes naan from the oven.  (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>
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<p>The same as before, Khan says anybody who visits the Barbeque Hut should expect to sink their teeth into “the real deal,” whether it’s tandoori boti, butter chicken or pulao rice topped with lamp chops, all of which are available as a single serving or plater-style with multiple selections.  (For religious reasons, there is no alcohol on the premises.)			</p>
<p>“My food tastes the same as what you’d get in Pakistan, I don’t modify it in any way, shape or form to make it less spicy for westerners,” he says with a chuckle, adding the restaurant will be offering an end-of-Ramadan, Pakistani breakfast on May 7, beginning at 10 am			</p>
<p>“If you are kind enough to come here, I expect that you are looking for the tastes… the experience of my people. I’ve been away for two years — that’s a very long time — and now that I’ve returned, I can’t wait to get back to doing what I do best.”			</p>
<p>David Sanderson writes about Winnipeg-centric restaurants and businesses.			</p>
<p>david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca			</p>
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