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Businesses of Banyule’ presents Café Saffron, Ivanhoe

Travelling to India without the hassle of passports, luggage or expensive flights has been possible for the last 21 years, thanks to Vijay Negi’s ever popular Café Saffron in Ivanhoe.

The restaurant’s many loyal patrons are so addicted to Vijay’s authentic Indian cuisine that many who have moved away from Ivanhoe, or even into regional Victoria, regularly return for lunch or dinner, or to pick up bulk curries made to order and frozen for easy transport home.

For Vijay, who was born in Delhi and forged his career as a chef at 5-star hotels, the love for his culture, his food, his restaurant and his customers is palpable. “This is not a restaurant. I call it my lounge room.”

And his customers return the complement time and time again, returning often and voting Café Saffron the winner of the 2016 Banyule Bestbiz Awards in the Restaurants, Pubs & Bars category. Once, when the restaurant was busy, with three waiting staff down, several customers experienced in waiting volunteered to help take orders and serve food.

“We are a restaurant in the suburbs. We are not in the city or in a place where people need to come back so we have to depend on our service and make local people part of our business, part of our team, part of our family,” Vijay said.

And while he has closed the restaurant to host the whole Indian World XI cricket team, Vijay has not put their signed photos up because, as he says, “my locals are important over everything else and I have built up real rapport and friendships with people.”

Vijay also takes the time to help educate and coax those unfamiliar with Indian food to try new dishes. “Some people have had a very bad experience of Indian food. Our food is authentic Indian food that we served in India, full of flavour and spices but not hot.”

Vijay said quality is vitally important. “We’re known for our innovative interpretations of classic dishes and insistence on using the finest fresh ingredients from the best sources,” he said.

Like many other successful businesses, Vijay invests in his team, saying that each person who works in his restaurant is Café Saffron. “Our service is good. You have to be honest with people. Whatever you say, you have to deliver otherwise people do not trust you and this business is very much built on trust.”

While Vijay doesn’t advertise, with his loyal following and word of mouth continuing to fill the restaurant, he said a lot of hard work does go into building such a loyal customer base.

“I enjoy serving my friends (a term he uses for his customers) and that’s the main thing. I feel really grateful,” he said.