On the surface, there's not much that Vij's and Blenz have in common.
They're both successful Vancouver-based businesses, yes, and you can get a cup of chai at either one. But that's where the similarities seem to end. Blenz is expanding across the province; Vij's has expanded next door to open the more casual Rangoli, is planning a second restaurant nearby on Cambie Street, and has already created a facility on the Surrey-Langley border to produce their curries and sauces for the home consumer.
It's an understatement to call Vij's a prestigious restaurant. This year alone it won Best Indian from the Georgia Straight's Golden Plates, Vancouver Magazine, and the Westender's Best of the City Awards. So it can be a bit jarring to first-time visitors, General Manager Mike Bernardo admits, when servers start punching away on iDevices as soon as customers order.
This is the last—and most intriguing—commonality between Vij's and Blenz. Both businesses have put local technology to use with great success: their points of sale (more commonly known as POS) are provided by Vancouver's own Auphan Software, a tech startup that over the past decade has expanded internationally to provide restaurant owners with a fully mobile way to run their businesses.
It was founded in 2002, when three then-recent UBC and SFU grads named Wayne Au, Henry Shing, and Thinh Phan decided to strike out on their own. A decade later, Auphan Software is an international operation, with seven offices in three countries, but still headquartered in Vancouver.
“All of the development work is made here, as are all of our programmers and all the staff who manage the different areas," explains Susan Young, the company's marketing director. "Other offices in the US and Asia, but all those offices are sales offices. We create the program, and we deliver it to those offices. Ours is the corporate office. When we developed the program, it was based here. We developed our customer base here, we got the feedback here, and we took it to local trade shows and events in order to expand."
Their current POS product, Auphan Dining, was created in 2006. While it wasn't originally conceived as being for iOS handhelds, the increasing popularity of iPads and iPod Touches meant that restaurants' staffs were comfortable with the interface.
The app itself is free, though each iOS device it's connected to entails an annual licensing. Mike Bernardo demonstrated the app for Techvibes at a coffee shop not far from Vij's South Granville location.“The iPad interface works just like a normal terminal, it shows a full table map, everything: we've modified it a little bit so we can do our waiting list on it. It was a fast switch-over," he said.
"We wanted to get it in and implement it right away—it's user-friendly, straightforward, and it makes sense. The handheld system was integrated last year—because before, everything was handwritten. Handwritten waiting list, handwritten drink orders, and then those all had to be put on spikes to be rung in. So there was plenty of room for error," he explained. "This eliminates all of those problems, because you're putting everything on the person, then transferring that person to a table. You get more speed, cost-savings from fewer mistakes and not spending money on paper.”
More than that, the fully integrated functionality means that while servers can be sure that the orders get back to the kitchen without error, the management can track all aspects of their restaurant from wherever they are. They can change the menu, take reservations (not a function that Vij's puts to use, but invaluable just the same), manage inventory and soon restaurants will be able to manage their schedule on the interface too.
They also intend to take their software into the hotel market. Andrew Ould, the Director of Operations in North America, remains modest, and puts Auphan's mission statement rather simply: “We want to save our client’s money by giving them an all-in one solution.“
It's a sentiment that was echoed throughout the week at Startup Vancouver and GROW. While Vancouverites support local businesses, they can do so knowing that those businesses are supporting local business in turn. And that makes the chai—at Blenz or at Vij's—all the sweeter.