By: Barnie Choudhury
Dishoom boss’s pride at feeding millions of children and NHS staff during pandemic
IT IS probable that the hospitality trade will be grateful this Christmas and New Year for the chancellor’s £1 billion fund. According to global consultants Alix-Partners, one in 10 restaurants has been forced to shut permanently during the pandemic [between March 2020 and April 2021]. Its research suggests that during July and the end of September, with full trading conditions in the summer, almost 1,000 closed down.
Despite the hardships, however, one south Asian restaurateur has made sure all his 1,700 team kept their jobs.
“We managed to pass through the whole pandemic without getting rid of anyone’s jobs,” co-founder and boss of Dishoom, Shamil Thakrar told Eastern Eye.
“The nice thing is that we always enter the UK’s ‘Best places to work’, and this year, we were placed fourth in the UK, and the top hospitality company for a place to work, which I think is a really good result.
“This helped us during the staff shortages over these last few months as well. It was much easier to get people to essentially recruit their friends and acquaintances.”
Thakrar is dealing with the latest Covid restriction with the stoicism of someone who has had to deal with adversity for almost two years.
“We were quite excited about this December. Sadly, it’s been cut short. But I suppose we just take the environment that we operate in, and we have to sort of roll with the punches. I think this year, we’re getting better at changes. Omicron comes up, I guess we’ve seen this movie.”
Like all movies though, the script demands adaptations and changes. Thakrar said, “I think the delivery business helped us enormously. The meal kit business was a huge help.
“We opened a new restaurant during the beginning of the pandemic, and we had an extension of a restaurant near Covent Garden. We doubled in size during the pandemic. We’ve had to work quite hard to make it all work.
“Omicron obviously looks very infectious, but I suspect because of that, whatever happens will be quick. I’m delighted we’ve got such a high number of boosters already into the population, and we’re going very fast. But who knows?”
In 2014 during Ramadan, Dishoom began its “meal for a meal” initiative. For every meal bought by customers Dishoom, along with long-term charity partners Magic Breakfast and Akshaya Patra, donated a meal to a child in the UK and India who would have otherwise gone hungry.
“During the pandemic, we had 10 million meals in total that were donated,” Thakrar explained. “I think we’re up to 11 million now, maybe a bit more than that. So that’s something I’m really proud of that we continued.”
Dishoom also supported the NHS during the lockdown by sending 20,000 meals [biryani and dal] to healthcare workers.
Thakrar is known for championing mental well-being and agreed that he was “a half-glass full” type of guy.
“We focus really a lot on people’s mental health. We focus a lot on creating connections. I mean, I ran fortnightly yoga classes for people from my house. We did lots of different things like that, which I think really stood us in good stead.”