Nazmun Rozon in Conversation
September 7, 2023
By Sophie Kaloudas
Nazmun Rozon was born and raised in Fiji. As a youngster, she noticed that the island’s ways of life and culture were disappearing, especially knowledge about traditional food. She brought this interest with her as she moved to Canada. As an immigrant, she found a job working at a Whitby Shoppers Drug Mart, then Tim Hortons. While working at the donut shop, she met her future husband, Mark.
Nazmun’s mother-in-law retired in Fenelon Falls, and Nazmun and her husband came to the village to visit her. One trip, they passed a vacant property on 24 Francis Street West (now Ziraldo’s Restaurant), which they thought would make a good coffee house. One week after Mark and Nazmun were married, this dream became a reality. They named the restaurant ‘Nolan’s’ after their infant son.
Nolan’s became a popular Fenelon Falls fixture soon after opening. When Nazmun moved to Fenelon, she was struck by how the community welcomed her. As customers came to the restaurant time and again, Nazmun and Mark got to know many people in town. They operated the restaurant for 8 years, before the birth of their second son. They decided to sell the restaurant because they were too busy trying to operate the restaurant and raise their family. John Curtis and Richard Mitchell took over the restaurant, as Nazmun continued to work there. When they sold the restaurant, Nazmun moved on to the Kawartha Coffee Company (Bobcaygeon) and Fenelon Long Term Care Home.
Nazmun had long been interested in opening an Indian Restaurant in Fenelon Falls but “never really followed through.” When they owned Nolan’s, Nazmun and Mark hosted Indian dinners every month, and it was always a full house. After selling the restaurant, when Nazmun would note that there was no Indian food in Fenelon Falls, her husband would reply, “Why don’t you create a restaurant?” Her chance came in the Spring of 2020, when 69 Colborne Street was up for sale (Formerly Smokey Bones Butcher Shop, then Lighthouse Restaurant). Nazmn had her eye on the building, thinking it would make a great spot for an Indian Restaurant. It was convenient for takeout, with a large patio. By then, Mark was a real estate agent, and checked out the property, and then they made a quick decision to convert it into an Indian Restaurant.
It was challenging to open Lotus Indian Bistro in midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, “I had all of these visions for the store for decorations, and I couldn’t get any of it.” One day, Nazmun went down to Gerrard Street in Toronto in order to get decor, but all of the shops were closed. ‘I had to take chances instead,’ Nazmun said, so some decor items she bought online, others from food suppliers, and from thrift stores. Eventually the decoration of the restaurant came together nicely, but getting food and spices was another story. Grocery stores and food suppliers didn’t carry the spices that Nazmun needed to make her dishes, so Nazmun would have to drive down to the GTA area every week to buy all of the ingredients she needed. Nazmun found a store in Peterborough that carried spices for 2021, but it caught on fire recently. Luckily, Nazmun found another store in Peterborough, and also got help from the Country Cupboard Health Food Store in Fenelon, but it continues to be a challenge. Due to Covid, many items are still out of stock, and Nazmun needed to ensure she would have enough food to be open every day. Finding the ingredients remains challenging, as Nazmun tries to find a way to avoid spending her day off driving to Peterborough or the GTA to go shopping.
Nazmun opened the Lotus Indian Bistro for the first time in June 2021 with help of friend Deb Blackmore, and the community response was very positive. ‘I didn’t expect to be as busy as we were in the first couple weeks,’ Naz laughed. From day 1, the restaurant was popular, so popular it was short staffed. “It was hard to find help and train someone, because you have to have staff who will learn about the culture of the food, the pronunciation of each dish, as well as serving skills.” Nazmun’s friends and family pitched in on the really busy days and helped out. ‘Many of the other restaurants in town were closed during that time due to Covid, so everyone else came here.’ Naz said.
The Lotus Indian Bistro became a family and friend oriented place after Naz employed chef Mitchell Alexander and Vincent Pankhurst as general manager ‘I have enough staff now,’ Nazmun laughed. “I trust all of my employees, we are able to work together and improve the food, and get feedback. I have a great team.’ Nazmun says.
Lotus Indian Bistro serves a variety of dishes. As she reflected on the loss of knowledge about her own traditional food and culture, she learned more about India through food. Nazmun didn’t want to serve food from just one region of India, instead she decided to draw upon many different regions in the subcontinent, “like it was in Fiji,” (Cuisine in Fiji draws from many regions of India and other countries.) Lotus Indian Bistro recently joined the Kawartha Culinary Tour ‘Taste of The Trent Severn Waterway,’ and created a dish ‘Goan down the Trent Severn,’ with a Goan and Pickerel Curry. Vegetable Korma is also featured, as well as the new vegetable and protein bowls. An ever popular item is the Butter Chicken, as well as the Chicken Biryani (Nazmun’s favourite item on the menu). Nazmun tries to get ingredients locally sourced, including meats from Thurston’s Butcher Shop and local farms around Fenelon Falls. Many items on the menu are gluten or dairy free, vegetarian or vegan. For people who don’t want Indian food, there are Fish and Chips or Chicken and Fries. And for dessert, there is a delicious Rice Pudding that is gluten free.
When Nazmun is not at the Lotus Indian Bistro, you may see her around town volunteering. She started volunteering years ago at the Bobcaygeon Legion’s Burger Nights. Although she does not volunteer there anymore, she met people and gained further connections. Later she volunteered at the Kawartha Settlers Village Festival of Trees in Bobcaygeon, and with Kawartha Lakes Pride. Recently, Nazmun has volunteered the Lotus Indian Bistro space for Feeding Fenelon, a community led organisation that provides meals to those in need. “I don’t want to take any credit for it, but I was amazed at how the community came together to support Feeding Fenelon, it made me love Fenelon Falls even more,” Naz said.
Nazmun has learned a lot in owning the Lotus Indian Bistro. “I thought I knew how to cook Indian Food until I opened an Indian Restaurant,” Nazmun jokes. People from all over have visited the restaurant and given Nazmun tips on how to make the different dishes even better. To newcomers, Nazmun would recommend the Butter Chicken, or the Madras Curry with Vegetable, Chicken, Lamb or Shrimp, as they don’t have a lot of spices. The Lotus Indian Bistro is open 12-8pm Wednesday-Saturday and 3-8pm on Sunday.