'I'm immensely sad to see it go, the restaurant has existed longer than I have': Curry house owner's sorrow at closing 42-year-old family institution

From left to right, Abdul and Mohammed
From left to right, Abdul and Mohammed

A popular curry house manager has paid tribute to his beloved restaurant after high business rates, the reputation of Bridge Street and a shortage of skilled chefs forced him to close.

Mohammed Ahmin, 39, took over the Royal Bengal in Bridge Street from his father Abdul Rohim in 1998 after he graduated from university.

Mohammed Ahmin

Mohammed Ahmin

The restaurant, which opened in 1975, will serve up its last meal on Saturday, May, 6 after raising nearly £63,000 since 2011 through fundraising efforts.

Mr Ahmin said: 'Im immensely sad to see it go, the restaurant has existed longer than I have. I have known it all my life, I used to come in here as a young lad, during school holidays and every Saturday I would come in at lunchtime, all the customers would recognise me, come up to me and shake my hand, from the age of four or five years old.

"Even before that I always came here and then I first started working here part-time.

"I have been doing it ever since.

"My father is still involved to this day in creating dishes and offering good advice. Sometimes he works better than all of us put together; he's 73 and still has that energy."

Gradually over time, following a periodic street closure from 8pm on Friday and Saturday nights, Mr Ahmin believes customers were put off by the "reputation" of the street, drunken club-goers and a lack of parking.

He said: "That to me was a turning point as far as Bridge Street was concerned, they [the council] did decide to open Bridge Street but unfortunately there was a big fire, the old Fat Cats."

"When that happened it caused big problems because there were massive hoardings on the street. Bridge Street was turned into a one-way kind of area and I think initially it was a bus route.

"For several months, even years, especially when the scaffolding was out, people just thought the street was closed and turning it into a bus lane put people off. All these things and the recession didn't help, there was an accumulation of things.

Another contributing factor for the closure was the increased business rates.

Mr Ahmin said: "The size might be deceiving, we are quite a large place, but it takes a lot to fill these seats, but I don't blame it all on business rates.

"We have lasted for 42 years, I don't think many businesses do that, as an Indian restaurant I think that in itself just shows how we managed to be resilient and change the way we did things."

Between 1962 and 1975 his father Abdul was a chef at the very first Indian restaurant in Northampton, the Taj Mahal in Marefair, which opened in the 1950s.

The head chef at the Royal Bengal learned under Abdul after leaving school, but there is an industry shortage of skilled Indian chefs in the UK, he revealed.

"The industry view is there is a shortage of staff - especially skilled chefs," he said. "The best way to get skilled chefs into the industry would be to recruit from India or Bangladesh.

"I would say that 10-15 years ago, people like myself should have foreseen that there was going to be a problem.

"People who live in this country who are grown up, going to school, university, college; they're not going to suddenly want to change their career and become a chef.

"There are some that do, but why would you go to university and get educated and then suddenly work in a restaurant - there is that stigma."

Social media user, Palden Dorje said on Facebook: 'This is so sad. This place holds so many wonderful memories for me over the years. Mohammed and his family are lovely warm people and I shall miss them.'

Fiona Furman said: "I'm gutted, I have lovely memories of this restaurant. When I was small and we used to go I would draw thank you pictures on the napkins, then one time the owner took me into the kitchen to meet the chef and all my past pictures were on the wall. They are great people. What a loss to Northampton."

Mr Ahmin said that since receiving heartfelt messages from well-wishers, he might consider opening up elsewhere...