Bajloor Rashid is the president of the Bangladeshi Caterers Association, the umbrella organisation for Bangladeshi restaurateurs in the UK. He spoke to Kerstin Kühn about the problems facing London’s Brick Lane, where businesses are under threat from soaring overheads
What are the issues facing Bangladeshi restaurateurs on Brick Lane?
The Bangladeshi restaurant industry in the UK comprises 12,000 restaurants employing more than 90,000 people and generating annual turnover of £3.5b.
Brick Lane is Britain’s capital of Bangladeshi restaurants, but the community has come under serious threat. Rates and rental payments have soared over recent years as the area has become more fashionable, and it’s making it increasingly difficult for restaurant owners to stay in business.
Are rising overheads not a problem for the whole hospitality industry?
Yes, but Brick Lane is an extreme case. In the past four years, rent has more than doubled and rates have increased by up to 70% – which is much higher than in other parts of the country.
For businesses, such a high level of growth in overheads is simply unsustainable, and more and more operators are worried that, if this trend continues, they will have to shut up shop. A large number of restaurants on Brick Lane have already been forced to relocate or close down altogether.
How many restaurants have had to close?
One of Brick Lane’s best-known restaurants, Café Naz, is shutting down, and some venues fear they will have to cut staff in order to stay open.
In the past two years 15 restaurants have closed, which – considering there are only 50 restaurants on Brick Lane – is a lot. Many of the restaurants change hands when they close, as new owners take them over to try to keep them going. But what will happen very soon is that people will give up, and the restaurants will close down permanently. They’ll be replaced by ordinary high-street stores or corporate chains, or even just left empty.
Are restaurants considering relocation to keep going?
Relocation is an option for businesses, but eventually this will mean that Brick Lane will lose its heritage.
It’s not just restaurants that are affected it’s all Bangladeshi businesses in the area, including the grocery stores and sari shops. If all of them are forced out and are replaced by big corporate chains, it will mean the end of Brick Lane as the “Bangla Town” it has been known as for so many years. It will lose its soul.
The answer lies in the council cutting its bills and giving restaurants preferential rates so they can survive and the area can retain its cultural identity.