91 alum shares her journey to becoming a celebrated Toronto restaurateur

After graduating from 91 Scarborough in 2018, Ambica Jain went on to open the critically acclaimed Adrak restaurant in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood
Ambica Jain is seated at one of her restaurants

Ambica Jain says she wants her guests at Adrak Yorkville to have a flawless dining experience while absorbing elements of Indian culture (photo by Matt Volpe)

Celebrated Toronto restaurateur Ambica Jain has come a long way since her first year at the University of Toronto Scarborough in 2014.

As a young undergraduate student, Jain knew she wanted to follow in her family’s entrepreneurial footsteps – but first needed to decide on an undergraduate major.

So, she chose mental health studies, which was then a fairly new program.

“At that time, there was such a stigma around mental health, especially in the South Asian community,” says Jain who graduated in 2018 and now owns Adrak Yorkville, a high-end Indian restaurant in Toronto that has a sister location in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Jain strives to ensure the dishes at Adrak Yorkville are as authentic as possible (photo by Ben Ehrensperger)

She says she enjoyed her studies  – and, later, found some of the lessons she learned helped her run a restaurant.

“You really learn about interactions with other people, which for me applied to staff, guests – you name it,” she says. “I'm grateful that I chose that program, and I'm grateful it was at UTSC. I think it was a really good platform and a really good university to introduce you to the world.”

In 2017, Jain debated whether to apply for a post-graduate degree in business and law, or gain hands-on business experience first.

Her mother suggested she try taking on a leadership role at one of the family’s many business ventures: Adrak, an Indian restaurant in Richmond Hill that her family had owned since 2014.

She decided to go for it.

“We renovated it, got a new team, and it had a new jazzy vibe. It was this refreshing new take on it – and I started liking it a lot,” she says.

When the opportunity arose to open a second Adrak location in the trendy Yorkville area, Jain jumped at the chance to open a new restaurant on her own – and her quick success at the helm of Adrak Yorkville has made her a big name in the Toronto restaurant scene.

Since opening in 2022, Adrak’s Yorkville location has had several glowing reviews: it was named one of Toronto Life’s best new restaurants in 2023, has been mentioned in the New York Times, and even earned a coveted spot in the Toronto Michelin Guide.

The restaurant’s success is due in part to its authenticity, says Jain, who wants her guests to have both a flawless dining experience and absorb elements of Indian culture along the way.

“If you're walking into an Indian establishment, you should be able to learn something new and take away something about the culture,” she says. “With Adrak, it's all about this upscale dining experience where we remain as authentic as possible when it comes to flavours and presentation.”

The decor of Adrak Yorkville features numerous elements hand-picked from India (photo by Ryan Emberley)

Her belief in cultural authenticity is applied to every aspect of the restaurant, she says, including the decor.

“In our Yorkville location, all the elements have been hand-picked from India. So, whether it's our furniture or our wallpaper, they each have a storyline that has relevance to our culture and our heritage.”

Jain believes it's important to reflect on and celebrate her own South Asian roots, but also to spread knowledge about her culture with others. And what better way to do that than through food?

“When it comes to our culture, I think it's very important that you don't lose the authenticity and the traditions of the dishes you're trying to showcase to the guests,” she says. “And you must explain it as well. You can't just serve them a dish and be like, ‘Here you go.’ It’s very important to tell the story behind it all.”

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