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Cobra Beer founder Lord Bilimoria fights to end weekly curry restaurant closures

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The British restaurant industry is thriving somewhat at present. It’s been demonstrated by the likes of ASK-Zizzi getting acquired for £250m at the start of 2015, while its new private equity owner went on to buy discount dining clubs Tastecard and Gourmet in Society in August.

Elsewhere, Latin-American chain Las Iguanas has been bought for £85m, while Visa reported that sales in restaurants, bars and hotels grew at a rate of 8.6 per cent year-on-year in July.

However, the outlook isn’t so promising for independents. Despite overall restaurant sales growth, breaking down into sectors has found two curry restaurants are closing each week, according to Cobra Beer, which was originally created in Bangalore from Indian ingredients by Lord Bilimoria.

The data follows our interview with Kimberly Hurd, UK CEO of restaurant discovery service Zomato, who revealed that the chains are taking over. “We created an exclude chains filter so you can avoid the noise. Around 2,000 restaurants per quarter shut down in London because most people don’t know where to go or how to find them,” she said.

In the case of curry houses, Cobra found that the closures aren’t necessarily a discovery issue, but more of a staffing and talent problem that the market is facing.

As such, the beer firm has launched a culinary campaign to revive the industry, with Michelin-starred chefs including Vivek Singh and Alfred Prasad of the respective Tamarind Kitchen and Cinnamon Kitchen among the veterans supporting the effort.

The nationwide scheme is free and chefs will showcase skills during workshops in restaurants across the UK, providing guidance on ingredients, communication and new dishes.

Industry insiders have found that talented chefs in the curry sector are retiring and leaving empty gaps in their absence, thus Bilimoria is out to bring in more young people.

Read more on Lord Bilimoria:

“The staff shortage in the curry industry is a chronic problem, lasting more than a decade. The staff, in our restaurants, are ageing, they are retiring and new generations of chefs are not coming into the industry,” said Pasha Khandaker, president of the Bangladeshi Caterers Association.

“The problem has been compounded by the lack of immigration into this country, hence the shortage of staff. You need a group of people to run the restaurants, and if you don’t have new generations of people joining you need to bring people in from abroad. Slowly the staff shortage is affecting food, service, and affecting the business, hence we are seeing the level of closures we see now.”

He noted that the problem has been ongoing across the past 15 years, but it’s now truly beginning to have long-term effects on the industry.

Khandaker added that the government should take the issue seriously and provide funding to train youngsters, establishing schools to provide the relevant skills.

“Curry is the nation’s favourite in the UK and this is thanks to the pioneering entrepreneurship of the curry restaurateurs who have taken Indian food to every high street in every corner of Britain,” Bilimoria said.

“The curry restaurant industry still relies heavily on staff from abroad, just as UK industries as a whole benefit from the hard work of talented people from overseas. However, through damaging immigration policy, the government is shackling and handicapping the ethnic restaurant industry and, in this way, making the whole nation appear ungrateful.”

He went on to back Khandaker’s plea for government support and better treatment of foreign workers looking to work in the UK, and claimed “Cobra is indebted to the curry restaurant industry”.

“Curry-making is a craft and it relies heavily on people with extensive experience and skills, such as the high-profile, world-renowned curry chefs from right here in the UK who are leading our initiative, sharing their best kitchen practices and the spreading the knowledge of the most successful and popular recipes that chefs are under increasing pressure to produce,” he concluded.

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