TEDxToronto 2019: Gulshan Allibhai, Owner of Lahore Tikka House

Gulshan took over the operation of the iconic 400-seat restaurant Lahore Tikka House in Toronto’s Little India when her husband passed away in 2013. With a master’s degree in social work, she has worked with diverse populations like immigrants, refugees and individuals with mental health issues. She currently teaches within the social work programs at Wilfrid Laurier University and Seneca College.

(To see Gulshan live on the TEDxToronto stage on October 26th, purchase your tickets here.)

What was your first “million-dollar idea”?
As a child I loved French fries but I was quite picky and only liked the ones that were perfectly cut. I hated how monotonous it was to cut them each individually and always dreamed of creating a cutting device to slice potatoes to perfection.

What’s the wildest idea you had to sell somebody on? How did you do it? 
I have always been drawn to natural-healing modalities. However, working in a community mental health agency that relied on the medical model these methods were often ignored in favor of modern pharmaceutical medicine. As you may imagine it was difficult to pitch those who were heavily in favor of the medical model that is traditionally funded by the Ministry of Health. Using evidence-based practice, I made a passionate presentation that managed to convince the directors to give this a chance. As a result, we were able to organize a holistic mental health conference that diverged from the standard practice and shed light on natural ways of healing.

Name a big idea in your lifetime that you can’t believe never took off?
The restaurant that I own has two floors and a patio. However, the restaurant only demands the use of the space upstairs on Saturdays. As such, I have always thought the community could benefit from the use of the space throughout the course of the week. I approached various non-for-profit community organizations in the area to ask if they would like to use the space for meetings, service user groups, ect., at no cost. To my surprise, only a few agencies ended up taking me up on the offer.

Name one thing, as a society, we aren’t spending enough time thinking about? What would be a good first step?
I believe that the collapse of the extended family has been detrimental to the development of a family-oriented society and will negatively impact the many individuals who already struggle with loneliness, crippling depression and anxiety. Growing up with strong ties to my extended family I have always found comfort in connecting with my cousins, aunts and uncles. The importance of staying close to extended family has faded over time as a result of increasing social and cultural fragmentation. Our increasingly rapid-paced society demands more time working and less time spent nurturing family bonds. But if we believe that it indeed does take a village to raise a child than this sacrifice of crucial family ties will be consequential to the well-being of our children and the future of society as a whole.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day-to-day work? How do you take it on?
I have always been a firm believer in independent problem solving as a tool for personal growth. As such, I often struggle with the need to micro-manage employees. One thing I try to do often is solicit the help of others who have expertise in the areas that I find difficult to address on my own.

Where do you look for inspiration?
My spiritual practices.

If you could achieve one goal in the next 18 months what would it be? And why?
To declutter my life spiritually, emotionally, socially and materially. I believe it will set me free and help me detach from worldly needs.

(To see Gulshan live on the TEDxToronto stage on October 26th, purchase your tickets here.)

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