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UK restaurant boss asks fellow businessmen to sell Pakistani cuisine with pride

Raja Suleman Raza, who made his name after setting up a successful chain of Spice Village restaurants across Britain, said that Pakistani cuisine has a distinct taste and flavour when compared with Indian cuisine but it was surprising that several Pakistanis market their restaurants and eateries as “Indian” while actually serving Pakistani cuisine and being of Pakistani origin.

By Murtaza Ali Shah
May 07, 2019

LONDON: A leading Pakistani restaurant boss has called on Pakistani restaurant owners to proudly own Pakistani cuisine and stop marketing their business places as Indian.

Raja Suleman Raza, who made his name after setting up a successful chain of Spice Village restaurants across Britain, said that Pakistani cuisine has a distinct taste and flavour when compared with Indian cuisine but it was surprising that several Pakistanis market their restaurants and eateries as “Indian” while actually serving Pakistani cuisine and being of Pakistani origin.

“I proudly go around and tell the world that I am a Pakistani, my restaurants serve Pakistani cuisine and I am proud of it. I have been doing a great business by marketing my business associated with Pakistani name and Pakistani food. It’s unfortunate that hundreds of Pakistani restaurant and takeaway owners in Britain don’t want to be associated with the Pakistani name and instead use ‘Indian’ name to do business,” said Suleman Raza, who has won several food industry awards.

“I call on all such restaurant owners to reconsider their approach, be true to yourself, your origin and be proud of Pakistan. This will give you more respect and credibility than anything else,” he stressed in an interview with The News and Geo.

Suleman Raza came to Britain from Pakistan several years ago and started working as a chef in a Brixton restaurant with an aspiration to start his own restaurant. He always felt things could be done differently for more delectable outcomes. The young Suleman found himself captivated with London's eclectic restaurant scene and longed to bring some of that foodie culture back to South of London.

“I was even more sure of my success as I thought I had found the magic potion to hit it off – the spices,” he said. Suleman decided to set up his restaurant business in Tooting for "people who might drive long distances to find an authentic restaurant with great food, where they could take their time with friends and families without feeling rushed. Slow, enjoyable food. Nothing to be rushed”.

While sweating himself in kitchen, Suleman immersed himself in almost daily restaurant planning. He began collecting travel-magazine photos of restaurants, along with reviews and other articles about their food presentations. "I started spending most of my time away from cooking thinking about the components of food, blends of spices, service and ambiance," he recollected.

He opened Spice Village restaurant in 2004. His workdays usually started at 9 a.m., going over the itinerary of the day with dozens of items to source, and ended at 3 a.m. after clean-up. Suleman regularly mopped and swept the restaurant, hauled delivery boxes to the recycling centre, did the restaurant's laundry and served as general handyman.

Suleman’s hard work has been rewarded. Customers have poured in, some of them from 30-40 miles away. Spice Village spread to the East of London and West of London too and its clients include mainly Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and many others. From Tooting it reached Ilford and then Southall.

“I always thought it would be more challenging to bring people in without alcohol. However, I believed if we would be good enough, we could do that. I don’t believe in alcohol and do believe in getting customers intoxicated with the power of spices – a much healthier option.”

Spice village customers range from the British House of Commons and House of Lords to Lambeth Palace, the Riyal Military Academy at Sandhurst, several embassies and London’s best starred hotels and iconic venues. London’s mayor Sadiq Khan ranks Spice Village among his favourites.

“I have made sure that I promote Pakistan every day through my business and that’s my responsibility and my commitment to the country of my origin. We are all set to go global in second half of 2019 with branches in South Asia and Middle East,” said Suleman.