Curry house crisis as two shut every week

Published by The Mail on Sunday (23rd August, 2015)

At least two curry houses are closing each week in Britain due to a crippling shortage of chefs. The trade body for the UK’s 12,000 curry restaurants and takeaways warns hundreds more will shut down soon despite their continued popularity.

The shock number of closures was revealed by the sales data of Cobra, the beer sold in most curry houses. And the figure was confirmed by the trade association.

The crisis comes as the first generation of owners and chefs who set up curry houses in the 1970s start to retire. Many of their children, who are often university-educated, want higher-earning jobs, while immigration clampdowns prevent restaurants hiring of staff from Asia. 

The Bangladesh Caterers Association, the trade body that represents curry houses in Britain, says the shortage of chefs is threatening the future of an industry employing more than 100,000 people on high streets across Britain, with predictions that up to a third of restaurants are facing closure.

Under the Government’s cap on skilled workers from outside the EU, chefs must earn annual incomes of £29,570, which is at least £5,000 more than the standard pay for such posts, and the restaurants that they work in cannot offer takeaway services.

‘This is a way of life under threat because right across the country there are no chefs coming in,’ said Eman Ali, founder of the British Curry Awards and owner of Le Raj restaurant in Epsom, Surrey. ‘The Government’s policy is totally destroying our industry.’

It takes about seven years to train a top curry chef. Owners say there are few British applicants for the job due to the anti-social hours, leaving them angry that applications to hire from abroad are routinely knocked back.

Pasha Khandaker, president of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, said Government-led efforts to train British chefs at ‘curry colleges’ had flopped, as had attempts to hire Poles and Czechs to cook vindaloos and tandoori chicken. Some curry restaurants are now looking to recruit and train Romanians.

‘Politicians all love curries but our industry has never been recognised,’ said Mr Khandaker, who owns a small chain of curry houses in Kent. ‘Now the industry is in a mess – you simply can’t run restaurants without chefs.’

A Government spokesman said they welcomed top chefs promoting innovative cuisine but also wanted to nurture more domestic talent. ‘This means the restaurant sector offering training to attract and recruit resident workers to meet their staffing needs,’ he added.

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