Raj’s a palace for the spicy palate

Corner on success: Paramjit Atwal, Ravneet Kaur, Kristy Dobos, Baljit Kaur and Sylvia Sangha. Pictures: Jonathan Carroll
Corner on success: Paramjit Atwal, Ravneet Kaur, Kristy Dobos, Baljit Kaur and Sylvia Sangha. Pictures: Jonathan Carroll

There’s something about Raj’s Corner that just gets people hooked.

One dedicated customer who moved to Melbourne brings a freezer bag with him when he visits Newcastle so he can fill it up with a supply of Raj’s curries to take home.

“When he comes in to see us he asks us if we will open a Melbourne store,” the woman behind the successful Newcastle Indian takeaway, Sylvia Sangha, says.

“This is something we hear regularly.”

She says Newcastle parents with children living in Sydney can also be spotted stocking up on food.

“On their way down to visit their kids they will stop in here because their children have been telling them that they miss Raj’s Corner.”

Newcastle has been getting their spice fix from Raj’s Corner since Sylvia and her husband Kuldip Sangha opened their first store on Beaumont Street, Hamilton in 1998.

The couple began a similar business model in Coogee in 1991 called Flavours of North India. They opened up several of these stores across Sydney but have since sold them. It was during this time that Kuldip worked tirelessly on perfecting his recipes, using customer feedback and demand to create the very menu you will see today at Raj’s Corner.

Sylvia was born in Australia, but Kuldip was born in Budhlada, in the Punjab region of Northern India, and most of the curries you will find at Raj’s reflect that. Store manager Paramjit Atwal, who has worked with the Sanghas since they started out in Sydney, also comes from the same area of India.

Some of their curries in popular demand include chicken tikka masala, lamb korma and rogan josh but when asked to pick a clear customer favourite Sylvia doesn’t hesitate for a second.

“Absolutely it’s butter chicken without a doubt,” she says.

“Customers cannot get enough of the rich flavours of our sauce and the chicken which has been marinated in yoghurt and spices”.

Sylvia explains that their chicken is marinated overnight before being skewered, cooked to perfection in the tandoor and added to the gravy.

Raj’s offers 22 curries on display, with another 20 items on special order, like dosa and birayni (for catering purposes).

HOT SPOT: Raj's Corner in Beaumont Street, Hamilton, is always humming.

HOT SPOT: Raj's Corner in Beaumont Street, Hamilton, is always humming.

When Sylvia and Kuldip decided to bring their business to Newcastle 19 years ago it was a gamble as to whether the community was ready for what they had to offer.

“From day one people warmed to the idea,” Sylvia recalls.

Their loyal customer base grew at an exponential rate, seeing them open Darby Raj on Darby Street, Cooks Hill, in 2002 before extending Raj’s Corner Hamilton in 2011. The following year they opened Raj’s Spice shop on Beaumont Street and Raj’s Corner Glendale.

Their restaurant, Kings Xl, then opened on Beaumont street earlier this year following demand from customers who wanted the taste of Raj’s Corner in a more fine dining setting.

While their son, Jason, a highly-rated NSW teenage cricketer, does not work in the business, a niece, Bella, manages the Glendale store and Kings XI restaurant.

Given the rate of their success Sylvia said she could have franchised the store 10 years ago, but has chosen not to for fear of losing their great reputation.

“We get offered locations and deals regularly, but our main focus is our current stores,” she said.

“It’s about doing it properly. It’s not about franchising.”

Sylvia says their business model is about consistently providing the people of Newcastle with tasty, affordable and fresh food.

Everything is made on site daily; from the pastry for their samosas and dough for the naan bread to their dips and sauces.

“We demand the freshest and best quality of meats and vegetables. We pay for fresh not frozen,” Sylvia says.

Each eatery has its own fully equipped kitchen where fragrant curries bubble on the stove, samosas are wrapped by hand and piping hot naans are pulled fresh from the tandoor.

The way their customers are served at the front counter is also paramount to their vision. Sylvia says the girls who work the front counter are “worth their weight in gold” in ensuring the customers are kept happy.

“The Newcastle community to us is everything,” Sylvia offers.

“They have supported us from day one. They drive, at times, more than 30 minutes just to get to us.”  

Their diverse diners can range from uni students scraping together a few dollars for sauce on rice with a cheese naan, to tourists who have been tipped off about Raj’s Corner, or even people requesting them to cater for their wedding.

“We are in this for the long haul and to do right by our customers,” Sylvia says.

“We hope to continue to serve the people of Newcastle for another 20 years.”