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Toronto Club District

Toronto's soup king to expand to Leslieville, Yonge and Sheppard

Posted by Luke Champion / August 22, 2010

Toronto soup kingAs Ravi Kanagarajah unlocks the gate to his Adelaide Street restaurant - RaviSoups - Saturday morning, he warns me to watch out for the pool of vomit guarding the doorway. "This is what happens in the Entertainment District," he says with a smile, his Sri Lankan accent cushioning his consonants.

But despite the occasional mess left by over zealous club kids, Kanagarajah remains pretty blasé about his noisy neighbours. He's not open nights so for the most part, he's spared the headaches that come with a 3am feeding frenzy. He tried it one Friday shortly after he first opened; it was a lesson he learned very quickly.

"Not much happened in the night, then at 2:30am there was a huge, big crowd," he says. "I got tortured. Those people are crazy, they're kids - they're stupid. I had so much trouble selling wraps and soups, it convinced me - never again."

But Kanagarajah never intended to cater to club kids, and frankly, he doesn't need to. The Adelaide location opened in 2007 and has been consistently slammed by lunchtime professionals ever since. He's already opened a second location on West Queen West near the Drake and has big plans for his future empire.

Toronto soup kingKanagarajah has come a long way since he immigrated to Canada nearly 20 years ago. He grew up working in - and then running - his family's restaurant back in Sri Lanka, but arrived to Canada with very little. On the day he arrived he stopped by Mildred Pierce - where his uncle worked as a dishwasher - to pick up keys to his house where Ravi would be staying until he got settled.

When Kanagarajah saw his uncle being swallowed up by the mountain of dishes in front of him, he stuck around to help out. By the end up the day he had a job of his own and the beginnings of his culinary career in Canada. Over the next decade Kanagarajah worked his way up from dishwasher to prep cook to garde manger, all the way up to saucier.

"I became the soup maker for the restaurant," he said. "People started calling me soup king and all that stuff. No one else made soup there except me."

This was where he cut his teeth on the recipes, but he never thought of turning them into his own business until Mildred Pierce owner and executive chef Donna Dooher put the first inklings in his head one New Years Eve.

"I was making shrimp bisque for the night," he explains. "Around noon I finished up the bisque and brought [Donna Dooher] some in a little bowl, just to give her a try. She tasted it and right away her face lit up and she said 'this is Ravi soup!' She was the first one to say Ravi Soup and the moment she said it, it really stuck in my head."

Toronto soup kingKanagarajah already has a cookbook in the works and just recently he bought a second table made of a single 14ft. by 4ft. piece of Indonesian Suar wood. The first is the centerpiece of his Adelaide Street dining room; the next will serve the same purpose in Leslieville. Of course, that Leslieville location doesn't exist yet, but the need to store a 2,300-pound piece wood has given just enough pressure to get the ball rolling.

By the end of next year he plans to have a fourth location at Yonge and Sheppard as well, along with a different, full service restaurant featuring what he promises to be a unique menu of Indian cuisine.

It's an ambitious plan for sure, but one he intends to do without the help of investors or franchising. Above all it's a family operation and Kanagarajah wants to keep it that way - lucky for him, he's got an enormous family.

With 25 first cousins in Canada - all cooks, 21 of which are spread out across the GTA, Kanagarajah has a pretty broad talent pool to draw from. By the time he's done, he'd like to employ all of them. His plans include a location in London, England and New York City in the next few years as well as a total of ten locations across the GTA.

"It's going to be one big family operation," he says. "I want to grow big, bit without being too commercial. It will always keep the same attitude."

He's already got four cousins operating the Adelaide location, his brother running the Queen West spot and now as his nephews are getting older they're becoming involved too. With the size of his growing family, perhaps his plans aren't ambitious enough.

Ravi SoupsPhotos by Dennis Marciniak

See also: The best soup in Toronto



mr hate / August 22, 2010 at 12:35 pm
Ravisoups is SPECTACULAR.
That is al.
choppery / August 22, 2010 at 12:37 pm
"his Sri Lankan accent cushioning his consonants"

No. Just no.

Other than that, nice piece.
Soupfan / August 22, 2010 at 01:23 pm
This is the best soup.

Great news re: expansion plans!
Neville / August 22, 2010 at 02:41 pm
MMMMM! Yay, Leslieville. Can't wait!
Inna / August 22, 2010 at 03:04 pm
I can't wait till it comes to Leslieville too!
HUK / August 23, 2010 at 08:33 am
Ravi Soups is one of the things I miss most about not working downtown.

anglometrics replying to a comment from choppery / August 23, 2010 at 08:41 am
Nice point, choppery. Why the linguistic profiling in a celebration of great soup?
Tam Sivathasan / August 23, 2010 at 11:30 am
Hello Toronto Sun!, hello Fraser Institute! please make note of another Tamil's success story.
The Shakes / August 23, 2010 at 12:10 pm
A really great story. I wish him much success, and look forward to the Yonge and Sheppard location opening, as it'll be close to my work.
agentsmith replying to a comment from anglometrics / August 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm
Next they'll call him the Soup Tamil Tiger. "No soup for you! You come back one year!"
Laika / August 23, 2010 at 12:49 pm
Agreed, nice article ... but 3 words that have no place in an article about soup are "pool of vomit," especially at the beginning. How about: "he warns me to watch out for the mess left by last night's club crowd." Or anything else but pool of vomit. Ewww.
Luke replying to a comment from anglometrics / August 23, 2010 at 03:26 pm
What profiling? It's descriptive language, not judgement. Like describing his clothing or his appearance. Ravi has an accent, that's a fact. It also happens to be a lovely accent.

Is it inappropriate to mention he's Sri Lankan as well? Or that he has dark hair? Or he was wearing a bright white shirt? Or that he smiles a lot?
Donna / August 23, 2010 at 04:48 pm
Your soups still rock. Good luck with the expansion.
soup in the summer? replying to a comment from Luke / August 23, 2010 at 08:49 pm
If he's been here 20 years I doubt he's still Sri Lankan. That isn't something most Tamils who come here cling to, as far as I know.
choppery replying to a comment from Luke / September 17, 2010 at 09:02 am
1. "Cushioning his consonants" is an embarrassing piece of writing. It's like calling his skin "coffee coloured" or musing about how his eyes twinkle with memories of his past. It's purple prose, it's cloying.

2. We all have accents. All of us. Singling this man out for his isn't necessarily incriminating, but it does leave a bitter taste of exoticization. Why is a Sri Lankan accent more notable, for example, than a white Anglo-Saxon south-western Ontario one? Saying that he's originally from Sri Lanka would suffice, getting romantic about his speech is below the call of duty.
hanpower replying to a comment from choppery / October 11, 2010 at 02:28 pm
Why "no" the the author being descriptive and accurate about Ravi's Sri Lankan accent? Ravi IS of Sri Lankan descent. That line lets us know without further details that Ravi's is the story of a successful immigrant. The way the author wrote this article, I felt I knew Ravi as more than a restauranteur looking for a quick buck. He let us know of his humble beginnings from his native country of Sri Lanka...I am very confused as to why you say "No. Just no." Please explain.
anglometrics / December 8, 2010 at 03:26 am
If the scholars in academia are right, everyone has an accent. Deciding one's accent is specific to another country like Ravi's and that Canadian Anglophones have the privilege to designate what constitutes "exotic" or "soft consonants" or "not from here" comes off as nationalist profiling.
RIP / April 2, 2013 at 07:55 am
RIP Ravi :-(
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