There is one place in Edmonton outside of my childhood home where I have celebrated every birthday or graduation since I was 7, and brought every boyfriend to vet him.
Padmanadi is a local Indonesian eatery just north of downtown Edmonton wedged in a grey, semi-industrial busy street near a furniture warehouse and a performing arts school. The all-vegan menu is nothing short of sorcery. The ginger “beef” is so good, my meat-eating friends didn’t believe it’s vegan, and I have a friend who now lives in New York and still dreams about the restaurant’s curry sauce served with “mutton,” “chicken,” or Roti Canai, a fried flatbread you dip in the sauce.
While the food rates highly, it’s the people in charge who set the place apart. Kasim Kasim, the owner, has easily become an uncle figure for me and hundreds of other Edmontonians. Even the decor of the restaurant is a nod to his customers: the walls are lined with professionally taken portraits of the regulars as well as Kasim’s family.
I’ve been eating at Padmanadi since it opened its first, now defunct location in the city’s Chinatown in 2002. Kasim has played a large role during several of my milestones, but he perhaps had the biggest impact on my life in the fall of 2016. I was living more than 1,000 kilometres away from home, in Vancouver, for the first time, and Kasim went out of his way to make the adjustment easier. First, my mom visited me with 2 litres of chicken curry, packed by Kasim. (It’s a miracle the curry sauce didn’t spill out all over my mom’s clothes in her suitcase.) A couple of weeks later, Kasim had a layover in Vancouver on his way to Hong Kong, so he invited me out for dinner. He bought me Thai food and then slipped me $40 “because uncle Kasim is proud of you.” Forty dollars goes a long way when you’ve recently taken on some student debt and Vancouver rent.
I’d bet everyone who has spent some amount of time at Padmanadi has similar stories. My friend Ben is quite close with Kasim and his family. When Ben’s car was totalled, Kasim offered his own up temporarily; when Ben had to move, Kasim cooked food—for free—for the entire moving party; Ben attended Kasim’s relative’s weddings and funerals.
“There’s this community that’s been built around him and it’s especially clear during these scary times,” Ben said. “He posted the other day about how he misses hugging everyone—because he hugs everyone. I’ve never met anyone like him.”
Kasim also loves to set people up. When I called Kasim for this story, a booming, cheerful voice picked up, “Hello, Anya, I miss you! Are you still with your boyfriend?” “Oh, no, not that one,” I replied. “Good, I’m 60 and I know people!” Kasim said. Matchmaking of any sorts is futile during a pandemic when we’re all supposed to keep to our own homes, but Kasim’s sentiment is indicative of a bigger pattern: he genuinely cares about people and wants to do what he can to not only help others, but to add zest to life.
I was thrilled to learn that his business, which now includes two locations, is faring surprisingly well during the pandemic. “Things have been very good, very good and very busy,” Kasim said. “But the work is harder right now because fewer people are working.”
Padmanadi is allowed to reopen with limited capacity, since Edmonton already started reopening on May 14. But Kasim said he won’t offer dine-in services until his staff feel safe to come into work. “Some live with older parents and we don't want them to feel scared,” he said.
Right now, the idea of sitting in a restaurant feels like an unnecessary risk, but I can’t wait for the day that I’ll be able to walk into Kasim’s brightly lit restaurant. All I want is to squeeze Kasim, his daughters, Maya and Angela, and his wife, Linda, basically drink the curry sauce, and gossip about failed dates.
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