hen Indy Dhadda left his native England and settled in Richmond six years ago, he quickly noticed some fundamental differences between convenience foods in his homeland and here in Greater Vancouver.
“Number one,” he says, “if you took every pizza shop in Canada and turned it into an Indian restaurant, that’s what England looks like. It’s on every corner, in every supermarket. It’s ingrained in the way we live and breathe in England. Chicken tikka masala is the national dish.” By contrast, while he did discover some good Indian restaurants in the region, he was surprised by their relative scarcity.
Secondly, there was no local equivalent to ubiquitous British chains like Pret A Manger and Marks & Spencer, which offer complete, well prepared grab-and-go “ready meals” that require little or no preparation. This eventually led to a conversation with his friend, AJ Sandhu, a fellow British expat (albeit one who has lived in Richmond for most of his life). Despite both of them already having full-time jobs, they decided they needed to become the solution to their mutual problem. “It came up over a couple of beers,” recalls Dhadda, “and it just grew really quickly. We saw this gap and we thought it was a great opportunity.”
At the same time, a storefront in Steveston Village became available. “It was almost like we were getting all these signals that said, ‘We should do this!’” he recalls. The delicious result is Five Rivers Meat Co. Opened in October 2020 and named in tribute to the rivers that flow through the northern region of India, the self-described “classic Indian meat shop” offers a compact selection of meats—many of them marinated in classic Indian sauces and dry rubs—as well as prepared foods including samosas, meat pies, and patties.
“We focus on Indian foods, particularly marinated meats,” says Dhadda, “but our real concept is convenience. If you’re not familiar with Indian flavours and don’t know how to season your meat in the right way—all that headache of prep and making the marinade and leaving it overnight to marinate is taken out of your hands. All you need to do is to come into the store, pick up your proteins, put them on the barbecue or in the oven or in a pan, add a salad and some sides, if you like, and your dinner is done. That level of convenience isn’t necessarily what you’re going to get from a typical butcher.”
Despite a novel business model and Steveston being a relatively small community, Five Rivers proved immediately popular—so much so, says Dhadda, that customers drive from as far afield as Langley and Tsawwassen specifically to visit the shop. Some patrons initially balk at Five Rivers’ prices, which are marginally higher than those at conventional supermarkets and butcher shops, but they tend to become mollified once it’s explained that all of the meats are locally sourced (beef, for example, comes from Chilliwack’s 63 Acres), free range, and fed an all-grain or grass-based diet. As well, the shop’s marinades avoid powders in favour of fresh herbs and spices.
Customer feedback even encouraged the duo to create its first branded product: a prepared butter chicken sauce that’s now one of the shop’s best sellers. “It had never crossed our minds to do that,” Dhadda acknowledges. “But it’s not unusual for a customer to park the car, run in, grab two jars of the sauce, and run back out. It’s not a typical jarred sauce that’s been sitting on the shelf. No additives, no preservatives; it’s authentic.”
And while Dhadda and Sandhu have no intention of abandoning their day jobs, they don’t foresee Five Rivers being limited to a single outlet, either. “When we first sat down, the goal wasn’t just to have a small store in Steveston,” says Dhadda. “We wanted to build our identity, build our brand. There are hopes and dreams of expansion, for sure. We’re a family-based business, but we’ve got some big ideas and big goals.”