Asma Khan has said moving Darjeeling Express from London's Carnaby Street to a larger restaurant space will allow her to promote the next generation of women in hospitality.
Khan opened the 56-cover Darjeeling Express in Kingly Court with an all-female brigade of self-taught chefs in 2017. Acclaim and an appearance on the Netflix hit Chef's Table followed and the restaurateur is keen to ensure she continues to bring more women into hospitality.
She said: "The pandemic has given me time to think about where I want to go. It was never about money or the bottom line. I see the business as a vehicle for change, and one of the things I have become very conscious of is the complete lack of diversity when it comes to decision-making in hospitality. I wanted to imagine a space in hospitality where you have women and women of colour.
"I want to teach the next generation of women in hospitality. When the pandemic hit I was talking to a lot of women who were worried about their jobs, and invariably women pay a price. When we return to normal you may find a lot of women are not called back because it is men who make the decisions."
The original Kingly Street site will not reopen as Khan, who had already been searching for a new premises, cannot see a way for it to function with restrictions in place.
She explained: "It was getting incredibly difficult. It's a very small kitchen and it's very tough because we cook fresh, we don't do industrial-style, commercial cooking. That requires a lot of people cooking the food – they need to be able to breathe to be able to work with space around them."
The search for a site had started before Covid-19 locked down the country, but a promising space fell through and Khan continues her search.
She added: "I'm waiting to see the site. If it were to be available right away I would probably take it and do what I can do, but I will only open a fully-functioning restaurant when it is safe. I will not put my team at risk or our customers at risk.
"My vision is just about getting everything started and getting more women on board. The faster the better. We need to move to another level and take on more people.
"I have lots of ideas around doing delivery or dishes people can pick up. I'm thinking of catering, and once I know the place and have touched the walls of the kitchen, we can go.
"There's a lot of fire in the team to go back. This is a team that has started from nothing and now they want to help others. It's not just me, it's what we all now talk about – because we've made that journey from nothing to something."
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