'I'm immensely sad to see it go, the restaurant has existed longer than I have': Curry house owner set to close doors on 42-year-old family institution

A popular curry house manager pays tribute to his beloved restaurant following the announcement that it's set to shut due to an accumulation of high business rates, lack of parking and a shortage of skilled chefs in the industry.

Thursday, 20th April 2017, 3:57 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 6:52 pm
Mohammed Ahmin

Mohammed Ahmin, 39, took over the Royal Bengal in Bridge Street from his father Abdul Rohim, now 73, in 1998 after he graduated from university.

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

He 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 of five years old.

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"Even before that I always came here and then I first started working here part-time quite young and I have been doing it ever since, and in that time I went to university as well and after I graduated I took over the running of the restaurant in 1998."

"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, Mohammed 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 [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 was massive hoarding on the street and Bridge Street was turned into a one-way kind of area and I think initially it as 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 is the increased business rates.

"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 50s.

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

"The major problem that faces a lot of Indian restaurants is the fact that there is a big staff shortage.

"The industry view is there is a shortage of staff - especially skilled chefs - and the best way to get skilled chefs into the industry would be to recruit from India or Bangladesh, who actually cook the dishes. I would say that 10-15 years ago, people like myself should have foreseen that, 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. After they have graduated I think they want to get on with their career."

Mohammed confessed that since receiving heartfelt messages from wellwishers for the future on social media, he might consider opening up elsewhere...