‘Started from a shipping container’: The migrant story behind Australia’s ‘best’ Indian restaurant

‘Started from a shipping container’: The migrant story behind Australia’s ‘best’ Indian restaurant

  • Canberra’s Daana recently took the Gold award in the Indian restaurant category at the Restaurant & Catering Hostplus Awards for Excellence.
  • Sanjay and Sunita Kumar started their business in a 40-foot shipping container in 2015, and opened their first full-service restaurant a year later.
  • Restaurant & Catering Australia (R&CA) is the peak industry body representing over 57,000 restaurants, cafes and catering businesses across Australia.
  • The awards take place on a yearly basis and feature an independent panel of over 280 judges.

Sunita and Sanjay Kumar left behind prosperous careers for the love of Indian food.

The couple migrated to Australia in 2012.

In India, Sunita enjoyed a blossoming corporate career, while Sanjay worked as an airline catering manager.

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Once down under, they decided to launch a business together selling ‘authentic’ Indian street food, which Sunita claims was not available in Canberra then.

“Like other migrants, we started from scratch and in 2015 decided to sell food from a shipping container,” she recalls, referring to their original venue on the bank of Lake Burley Griffin.

Sunita, a trained chef, says at first they both worked other full-time roles to make their passion project work.


Daana’s team at an award function. Credit: Supplied

“We had a small baby to look after, we used all our savings for the shipping container and we were side by side managing our local jobs to keep our daily expenses going,” she says.

During the first two years of business, the couple worked seven days a week without a single break.

“Sanjay used to travel nearly 500 kilometres a day back then managing his full-time role and simultaneously working at the shipping container,” Sunita recalls.

‘Sharing authentic experiences’

Within a few months of business, their efforts started to gain attention and they needed to hire a bigger space.

“Every time our biryani ran out, bulk orders started coming in. Having realised we would need a bigger area, we decided to open our restaurant in 2016,” she says.


Sunita and Sanjay Kumar started their food business from a shipping container in Canberra. Credit: Supplied

Sunita says they were lucky to get vendor financing, which allowed them to expand.

“Again, at the new restaurant our old menu did not work at all. So we decided to curate different menus, but we still had typical dishes of regional India,” she explains.

Their intention was to create a taste for regional Indian cuisines, particularly South Indian, in Canberra, while offering the feeling of eating at home.

“Our menu is called the ‘Confluence Menu’ as we use all Indian aromatic spices, fresh herbs and our homemade masalas along with typical Australian bush ingredients like bush tomatoes and macadamias,” she proudly explains.

Today, the restaurant operates with a monthly changing menu.


An example of the Thali (plate) at the restaurant. Credit: Daana Restaurant

“Initially, we used to serve thali (plate) based on particular regional cuisines like Rajasthani or Bihari. But now every month we have a new menu and that is to give our clients authentic and unique food experiences from different regions of India,” says Sunita, whose small team clocks in at a little over a dozen employees.

It’s not the usual, regular butter chicken or roganjosh kind of menu. We create our own menus, which take 3-4 months to reach the table and for that our food trials are always ongoing.

Sunita Kumar

There is no doubt that the post-pandemic years have been challenging for the restaurant industry across the globe and Sunita says her business too was impacted.

“We felt the heat of the pandemic during the second lockdown when the footfall dropped drastically. However, we managed to survive with our takeaway food business, but it was still very hard,” Sunita adds.

Daana’s owners credit their teamwork for coming out strong, resilient and creative as ever.


Sanjay Kumar (L) and Sunita (R) are both trained chefs.

“We are a perfect team and our passion for food has kept us going and brought us accolades. Sanjay knows his clients’ food preferences like no one else which is our solid selling point,” she comments.

‘Really good to be recognised’

Daana, whose name is derived from Hindi word daan (meaning to give), has earned several awards and distinctions in a short time.

Last month it took the Gold award in the Indian restaurant category at the


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Tamarind Scallops being served with white wine Credit: Daana

The restaurant beat out NSW-based Overlander Indian Restaurant (Bronze) and Delhi ‘O’ Delhi (Bronze), Queensland-based Indian Empire (Silver) and South Australia-based Laxmi’s Indian Restaurant (Silver).

“We always wanted to win this award and it’s a dream come true. It really feels good to be recognised as it motivates us to do even better,” Sunita says.

Held annually, the awards formally recognise restaurants, cafes and caterers across the country for their exceptional service and culinary excellence in their respective fields.

The winners are selected by an independent panel of over 280 judges.

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The Canberra restaurant has also emerged as a finalist for the ACT Chief Minister’s Inclusion Awards.

“Our first employee has Down Syndrome, and he is still working with us today. This is our way of giving back to the community in Canberra,” Ms Sunita explains.

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This year, Sunita is hoping to win the Inclusion in Employment award which recognises a business, organisation or individual who has provided inclusive and innovative employment practices.

For now, Daana will remain in Canberra, but Sunita has her fingers crossed that one day her food business will go places.

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