Karan Gokani

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The opportunity finally arose for Karan after he met and married his wife Sunaina Sethi, one of three siblings who founded JKS restaurants – the London based group who at that point already ran the likes of Trishna, Bubbledogs and Gymkhana. After conversations with both Jyotin and Karam Sethi about new restaurant concepts and JKS’s plans for expansion, Karan decided to fully dedicate himself to a career in food, and one concept in particular really appealed to him, ‘opening a restaurant had never really been about the cuisine for me,’ he explains, ‘I just knew it needed to be something close to my heart and something I could represent authentically. But I remember at our wedding in Kerala having a conversation with Karam about doing a Sri Lankan and being very interested. I obviously hadn’t grown up there but there was a lot of that culture around me, I’d travelled there a lot and I just loved the food. Around that time, people in the UK were also coming to understand hyper-regional food and that was something we felt we could really tap into.’

Initially, Karan moved back to London to work with JKS on some consultancy projects that they were involved in, but after a while his focus shifted fully towards the opening of his first Sri Lankan restaurant with JKS, having landed on the name Hoppers, ‘the idea was always for it to be a no reservation restaurant with small sharing tables,’ says Karan, ‘the idea being that no matter what walk of life you’re from, you’d come in, share a table and leave not just remembering the food but also remembering the conversation you had with your neighbour and the team who looked after you.’ Following various research trips to Sri Lanka to ensure the menu was as authentic as possible, Karan opened the first Hoppers at a small site on Frith Street in Soho in 2015 - it was an immediate hit.

As a result of this success, a second Hoppers site soon followed in 2017, this time in Marylebone, before a King’s Cross restaurant opened in 2020. Karan remained deeply involved with each of these openings, both in terms of hands-on recipe development but also overseeing the different teams, ‘I never want to be doing the same thing every day,’ he says, ‘I equally love dealing with people and dealing with food, and this role lets me do that. I’ll put my hands up and say I’m not a chef, but I am always trying to extract the best out of people at Hoppers.’ By spending less time in the actual kitchen, Karan has instead been able to work on other projects including cookbooks, collaborations and Hoppers delivery, bringing the food of Sri Lanka to even more people; and he shows no sign of stopping, ‘there’s still a lot more to come on the Hoppers front,’ he adds, ‘and I’ll be leading on that.’

Having spent a long time trying to find his way into the industry without being confined to the kitchen every day, not only has Karan found a role he’s perfectly suited to, he’s created one of London’s most popular restaurant concepts of the past ten years. Hoppers has helped shine a spotlight on a cuisine that Londoners knew far less about back in 2015, and that’s largely down to Karan's creativity and passion.