Interview with Lavanya Mahate, founder of Saffron Valley

This article is part of a series featuring business executives who choose to live and work in Utah. If you know of an executive we should interview, please contact us.

Starting around age six, Lavanya Mahate used to help her Mom cook for her large extended family. Every day was a pageant of preparing fresh spice blends, chopping vegetables, cleaning meats and cooking under her mother’s watchful eye.

Fast forward several years, and Mahate is the founder of Saffron Valley restaurants. She brings a wide variety of regional Indian food to each unique community (downtown Salt Lake City, South Jordan, Sugar House, Riverton and at The University of Utah) she’s proud to call home. She also recently opened Biscotts Bakery & Café and Dhanya Spices & Groceries to provide better access to the flavors of India. 

Her mission is to provide authentic, made-from-scratch Indian food using fresh ingredients and exotic flavors that will educate and excite the palate while surprising each guest with high quality and personal service steeped in a culture of warmth and hospitality.

Most recently, Mahate received the 2019 Blue Plate Special award from Salt Lake Magazine for her outstanding contribution to the Utah dining scene. She was also featured in the Food Network magazine’s fall 2019 issuu as part of its “women cooking for good” series. 

Mahate believes in empowerment through food and helping the next generation of food enthusiasts. She founded a local culinary school called Saffron Kitchen to provide tuition-free training to local refugees and underserved youth.

How did you get started in the industry?
When I immigrated to the United States in 2001, I was cooking for family and friends as a hobby, and they encouraged me to start a business in the food industry. At the time, I was working for the Salt Lake Chamber as the director of the Women’s Business Center, helping entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. In 2010, I took a leap of faith and quit my job and launched my line of spice blends at the Downtown Farmers Market. I then followed my passion and started my first restaurant–Saffron Valley, which has now expanded to five locations. 

What two recent professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
Saffron Valley is opening a location in London in December 2019. Working on this project has been both challenging and fun, and I am really proud of it. We are unbelievably excited about our newest addition to the family. Stay tuned for more details.

What drew you to Utah?
My husband worked in the information technology industry for American Express, and it was his job that drew us to this amazing state. We have lived in Utah for 20 years and are extremely proud to call Utah our home.

What do you like most about living in Utah?
Utah has been very welcoming and supportive. There are abundant resources available for anyone starting or growing their business, and the market is not saturated. This translates into more opportunities for people with an entrepreneurial spirit. Besides the steady economic growth Utah is experiencing, the natural resources and the scenic beauty throughout the state are breathtaking. We love to call Utah home.

What do you like most about doing business in Utah?
Where do I start? There are so many benefits of doing business in Utah. If I have to narrow it down, here are my top four reasons why Utah is head-and-shoulders above other states when it comes to creating a business-friendly environment.

  1. Relatively few government regulations
  2. Reliable banking systems
  3. Ready access to business resources 
  4. The remarkably close-knit local business community

What advice do you have for individuals considering starting a business, or relocating their business, to Utah?
Get to know your community well and network with business groups and organizations. Ask for help when you need it, more people are willing to support you than you think. Hard work, strategic planning, working on your business, rather than in your business, and being an outstanding leader sets the tone for your company’s success.

What are your primary objectives as a restauranter? 
For me, it is all about giving back to the community. We do this by offering culinary training, strengthening the local economy via career opportunities and developing strong ties with area businesses to support local entrepreneurship.

What is your business philosophy?
Tune out the noise, tune in the purpose. Have fun doing what you do!

Tell me a fun fact about yourself.
I love spinning to hip hop music at CycleBar.

Lavanya Mahate is the founder of Saffron Valley restaurants. Her mission is to provide authentic, made-from-scratch Indian food using fresh ingredients and exotic flavors.
Connect with her on LinkedIn.