Aman Rai of The Flame, Osoyoos
The Flame brings fine Indian dining, lounge, and events to bigger new location
It’s a giant step to go from a little restaurant of about 25 seats to a new location with a 200-seat capacity, but last summer the largest Indian restaurant in Osoyoos made such a move.
In July, the Indian Flame on Main closed its doors next to Mami’s Pizza and reopened as “The Flame” just up the street in the building that used to be home to Golden Chopsticks.
Aman Rai, the 25-year-old owner and manager, got little sleep in the seven months from when his family took over the building in January 2022 to when it opened. He’s been so busy that the grand opening was delayed until 2023.
Rai, who is young, energetic, and ambitious, got a helping hand from his parents, Sarabjit and Kuldeep Rai, to launch the venture. And, when he decided to forego an interior designer and design it himself, he had help from his sister, Pawan.
“Girls have better aesthetics,” he acknowledges. “That’s just the way it goes.”
Before the move, Kuldeep managed the smaller restaurant, which first opened in May 2018. She loves to cook and was involved in the food industry for close to 13 years. But the family decided that with the new emphasis on events and a fancy bar, it was a little outside the scope of the parents.
“Plus they’ve worked for long enough,” said Aman. “They’ve worked hard all their lives to give us everything we need, so now it’s time to repay.”
Aman’s experience with restaurants was limited to helping out from time to time in his mother’s restaurant. But he was born into an entrepreneurial family.
His father, Sarabjit, was born and raised in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India to a Punjabi family. His mother, Kuldeep, is from Punjab. Sarabjit ran a trucking company in India and didn’t really learn to farm until after the couple came to Osoyoos in the mid-1990s, although his father had farmed.
Aman was born in the South Okanagan a few years after his parents arrived.
“Everything started from farming,” said Aman, describing how the family acquired Mami’s Pizza in 2010 and later started Indian Flame on Main in 2018.
They’ve specialized in cherry and peach growing, and more recently have been getting into vineyards. The family has even acquired land in Prince Edward Island, where they’ve planted berries, peaches, and nectarines.
Nothing though could have prepared Aman and his family for the renovations that were needed to put the building in shape when they took it over in January 2022.
“We made several plans for how we were going to do it, but everything went out the window,” Aman recalls. “We started off the first two months and all we did was break things. Brick walls, rip off all the old drywall, take machinery out, throw everything in the garbage. I used to have two bins outside back-to-back. Every day there would be bin changes. For the first two months we just cleaned out, and the next five months we spent building.”
There were constant visits by all types of trades – general contractors, electricians, painters. Their visits had to be scheduled and sometimes overlapped, with as many as a dozen coming on the same day.
The kitchen had to be totally gutted and rebuilt from scratch. Needless to say, the original budget also went out the window.
After a few hiccups in early July, the completely transformed restaurant was able to open in time for most of the summer tourist season.
The facility is divided into two areas – a fine dining room with warm lighting and wall colours, and a lounge for parties and events with cooler lighting and colours. Aman describes the vibe of the lounge as a bit Vancouver and a bit Toronto.
The menu is quite similar to the previous location, though Aman says customers tell him the food is better at the rebranded “The Flame.” It is mostly traditional Punjabi food prepared according to family recipes that Kuldeep made at home.
“We tweak it to make it a little bit of a generic style to cater to everybody,” Aman said.
They’ve also added a few new items to appeal more to Western tastes, such as chicken wings, fried chicken, and margarita naan.
“Flame poutine is a big one for us,” he said.
You won’t find Flame poutine in India, but it’s essentially fries with butter chicken sauce instead of curds and gravy. It’s a meatless vegetarian dish.
Other foods are very traditional. For example, they’ve brought in tandoor ovens from India – round, clay ovens that originated in Rajasthan. These are used to bake naan (a flat bread) on the spot while meals are prepared.
Everything is made fresh and in-house, right down to samosas and pakoras.
Individualized meal preparation allows The Flame to prepare each dish to the customer’s choice of spice level. If a couple comes in and the man wants mild and the woman wants spicy, it’s not a problem.
Spice levels are numbered from one, which is virtually no spice, to five, which is very hot.
“Our spice scale level is based on Caucasian tastes because our clientele is majority Caucasian,” said Aman. “If somebody wants it really hot, Indian style, tell the servers. Then you can get very, very hot.”
He cautions though that some people overestimate their tolerance for spices and the food may go to waste because they can’t eat it.
“That’s why I always tell people a little bit less hot is better than too hot, because at least people will eat it,” said Aman. “If it’s less hot, sometimes you can add a chili or something.”
The most popular dish is butter chicken because that’s what people know. It’s essentially boneless chicken with a flavourful sauce. Aman recommends that people might want to try kadhai chicken instead. It’s got the boneless chicken and gravy sauce, but it includes green bell peppers and onions to give it more flavour.
He's also been enjoying the vindaloos recently. Another favourite is lamb curry.
“If you don’t know what to order, go for the lamb curry,” said Aman. “You can eat it with rice, you can have it with garlic naan. Either way, it’s fantastic.
With the fine dining running smoothly, Aman has turned his attention to promoting the lounge as a venue for events.
Recently there have been live music nights with no cover charge and featuring local performers. A recent performance by Rebel Luv drew about 80 people.
The music nights have been held on Wednesdays, but Aman has put them on hold over Christmas and may bring them back on a different night in the new year.
“This is for the locals and any age group,” said Aman. “You can come in, enjoy, dance, have a meal, you can drink.”
In the pre-Christmas season, the lounge was busy with private bookings for company Christmas parties.
“I’m open for any events,” said Aman, pointing to possibilities like wedding receptions, corporate events, business conferences, networking events, private events, and much more. When interviewed, Aman was preparing for a New Year’s Eve bash with local singer Diane Ball.
He was also planning a Punjabi night, bringing in bhangra dancers and teaching guests some of the moves.
And the large-screen televisions will often be tuned to major sporting events during the day.
Aman has ideas for future ventures, but he’s coy about them because now isn’t the time – the immediate priority is recovering the investment in the new restaurant.
“It might be a little way off, but you never know,” he said. “If I get a good opportunity, I’m going for it.”
Story and photos by Richard McGuire
8527 Main Street
Osoyoos, BC V0H 1V0