The Nepalese-Punjabi couple that outsmarted over a dozen Brisbane entrepreneurs

By Ram Khatry in Brisbane
27 July 20107


In 2015, Hom Pyashi had five businesses including cafes at prime Brisbane locations but he was so broke that his India-born wife was frantically applying for jobs to help her husband out.

“I was in such a desperate situation back then. But what can you do when you are in a challenging situation like that other than be tough and face things one at a time?” asks the young Nepalese Australian who operates a number of businesses in Brisbane and Sunshine Coast.

Hom Pyashi with his in-laws I Photo: Supplied

Mr Pyashi arrived in Australia in 2009 as an international student to study engineering at the Sunshine Coast University. That’s where he would meet his future wife, Harpreet Kaur. Today, the multicultural family is slowly adding businesses after businesses to its portfolio.

“At one point, I had seven cafes only!” Mr Pyashi exclaimed as he sat down to talk to southasia.com.au at The Engine Room Cafe & Bistro, his latest venture which has been in operation for a little more than a month.

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Young entrepreneur Hom Pyashi and his better-half Harpreet Kaur pose for southasia.com.au at The Engine Room Cafe & Bistro at Teneriffe, Brisbane

The Engine Room, one has only to Google the name to realise the historicity of that site by the Brisbane River. It was built in 1908 to provide cold storage rooms for the local wool industry. The structure was later used as a submarine servicing site during the World War II. Ever since it was launched on June 8 following a $1.2 million renovation by the Brisbane City Council, Mr and Mrs Pyashi have put in their heart and soul into the project. Their company spent around $250,000 to set up the kitchen, buy furniture and equipment. “My wife works seven days a week at this cafe,” the proud husband said in appreciation of his wife’s dedication to making Engine Room a winner.

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Hom Pyashi with his business partner Swotantra Pratap Shah I Photo: Supplied

Although he did not know exactly how many Brisbane hospitality industry entrepreneurs he must have competed against after the Council opened tender for a social enterprise cafe project, Mr Pyashi reckoned it would be at least fifteen. He and his partner, Swotantra Pratap Shah, with whom he shares a brotherly relationship, did not have much of a hope as the location was prime and there was much hype in the local media about the project. But thanks to his track record as a restaurateur, they won the tender, “I was so happy when we won the tender!”

Local media reported considerable objection to the project, specially to Hom Pyashi’s Uniting Hands Foundation (UHF) to which The Engine Room Cafe’s 10 percent profit goes.  Charity or “social enterprise” was a precondition of the bidding process. UHF, Mr Pyashi said, used to offer free food to homeless people in Sunshine Coast from 2011 to 2014, every Monday. The welfare side of his business also must have played a role in their winning the tender, beside the detailed project proposal they had submitted.

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UHF now offers food to around 25 homeless people in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley every Tuesday I Photo: Supplied

According to the former Crowne Plaza chef, not only The Engine Room Cafe but all his businesses including the Eighty Eight 48 at Fortitude Valley contribute 10 percent of their profits to UHF.

“Journey from Gorkhali to Engine Room was massive, lots of ups and downs,” Mr Pyashi sighed as he reminisced his early days as an anxious businessman — yet, he is only 28 year old. His worst nightmare, he mentioned, was around 2015 when he had too many cafes and restaurants to look after, “I was running everywhere.” Then he sold his Italian restaurant as well as the original Gorkhali Restaurant and Indian restaurant to focus on new projects.

Now he looks after his existing businesses and future projects from his office in the city but never staying away from his darling Engine Room.

The tables on the outside are always a sell-out as Teneriffe locals enjoy their meal with a view. The interior also has been done in good taste with a massive picture of a submarine engine on the wall, the like of which the historic building would be serving at one point in its century-old life. The cafe is already doing a brisk business but is expected to do more, based on Mr Pyashi’s experience as a restaurateur. Coffee aficionados are already booking but come December then the business is expected to get lot busier as most of December evenings have already been booked out.

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Mr Pyashi in front of his much-loved cafe, Brisbane River in the background coupled with the good food make the address a truly amazing eating experience. Photo: southasia.com.au

Hom Pyashi was still a student when he started a cleaning company in 2011 employing more than 60 cleaners. “By God’s grace or sheer luck, I was connected to a guy who was a contractor for Coles and I subcontracted for him,” Mr Pyashi said.

At just 23 years of age, he established the first Nepalese restaurant in Sunshine Coast. “In fact, it was the first Nepalese restaurant in Queensland to sell authentic Nepalese food,” he claimed during his conversation with southasia.com.au.

However, he soon realised that selling “bacon-and-egg roll and coffee” was much easier and more lucrative than selling curry. His knack for business became evident when he soon launched Huss’s Grill Cafe at Caloundra. Cooking contemporary Australian dishes was less time-consuming, he realised.

Huss’s is now a full-fledged franchise, Mr Pyashi said with a sparkle of pride in his eyes. It is authorised for up to 18 franchisees out of which only two are in operation at the moment – one in Brisbane and one in Sydney. He is in no rush to sell franchisees and make quick bucks though. Experience in the industry and the right attitude are a must for him. He thinks sustaining in business is more important than opening a business.

Chargrill Avocado on toasted Sourdough with soft poached Eggs drizzled with inhouse basil pasto with sumac roasted Tomato.

Sees opportunities in working with the Government

In 2014, Hom Pyashi was given the Youth Excellence Award by the Sunshine Coast Council for his achievements as a young entrepreneur. Ever since, he has had a great rapport with the Councils, both in Brisbane and Sunshine Coast. That is how he landed the Fortitude Valley pod where he currently runs the Eighty Eight 48 eatery, named after the height of Mt Everest. Mr Pyashi and his business partner Swotantra Pratap Shah invested some $500,000 to turn the pod into a functioning restaurant.

The Eighty Eight 48 has been the biggest learning curve, Hom Pyashi said, which has now helped him run the Engine Room.

I did not establish charity to win contracts

Mr Pyashi blasts those who accuse him of founding his charity with the motive of wining business contracts such as the Engine Room. “When I started charity I was working for Crown Plaza as a chef,” he said. “I established the foundation in 2010 whereas Engine Room came about in 2015. So, how would I know about the project five years in advance?” he questioned.

My wife’s my best friend

For Hom Pyashi, his wife is the pivot of his life. The wheels of his business machine wouldn’t turn without Harpreet Kaur. The two met in 2011 through some mutual friends who also were from Nepal. He was studying at the University of Sunshine Coast at the time. The restaurateur was lucky in that he got to marry his wife three times – Australia, Nepal and India. Being a practicing Christian, they had a Christian wedding both in Nepal and Australia but a party only in India.

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