Restaurants: Hubble bubble, toil ...
Word of mouth Setting up a 600-seat restaurant is no trouble for Mumtaz Khan
Saturday 20 February 1999
In 1980, eight years after the family arrived from Kashmir, Indian restaurants were patronised almost exclusively by Europeans. Farzand Begum was an excellent cook and she and her son sunk pounds 1,500 savings and pounds 2,000 borrowed from the bank into a place their compatriots could eat in. For six months Mumtaz manned it day and evening before he started the night shift at a textile mill, until he felt secure enough to give up the factory job.
Since then, what started as the Mumtaz Paan House has expanded, taking over its next-door neighbours, an optician and two fish and chip shops, to become a 150-seat restaurant. No alcohol is allowed on the premises which keeps out lager louts and ensures that the majority of customers - just - are Asians.
It's so popular there are queues to sit down and this has convinced Mumtaz that he can pull off one final expansionist push. Building has begun on a site next door, and when that's complete the existing restaurant will be rebuilt to combine with the new development, producing a 600-seat restaurant. "It will be the first Asian restaurant with merchandising," he promises, selling videos of cooking demonstrations, and spices and sweets.
The existing restaurant is respected for the simplicity of its menu. Customers order meat dishes by the half-pound or pound ("we were the first to do that") and every dish is made from scratch in karahi pans with fresh spices ground in Kashmiri villages then mixed by Mumtaz, and served lavishly scattered with fresh coriander. These karahi dishes will remain the core of the cooking, and Mumtaz doesn't see any reason why quality should suffer with expansion: "People come to eat because of my food. If I lose that, I lose everything."
Equipment is being specially built to produce on an unprecedented scale Indian food that Mumtaz insists will still taste home-cooked. But Mumtaz's special aim is to create several environments where customers can choose various sociable ways of eating Indian meals. There will be a cafe for coffee or tea, snacks and falooda, the kitsch Indian equivalent of knickerbocker glory - already popular with groups of young Asians chez Mumtaz - another area with cushions on the floor ("a lot of Asians are demanding that") and upstairs there will be a barbecue garden where customers can grill meat themselves. "I want to bring in dishes that people have never had before," Mumtaz enthuses. He mentions stuffed beef and lamb, lobsters, biryanis properly composed of layers of rice and meat or seafood, and charcoal grills. "It will still be authentic domestic food," he insists.
Mumtaz's own family proves that domestic cooking can be done on a large scale. He lives in a house with his father, his siblings and their families, 17 altogether. His mother died in 1990 before she could witness the success of the business she started.
Already Asians come from London, Leicester, Manchester, and like as not will find Mumtaz, greeting regulars, plugged into his electric hubbly- bubbly pipe, a habit he can't give up, but which keeps him rooted to one spot for the hour or so it takes to smoke one. It may be the only thing that keeps Mumtaz still, for delegation is not his style. He trains the chefs himself, making sure they haven't worked in other restaurants, and when the new restaurant opens he'll have almost to double from 50 the number of people employed in the restaurant.
But that will only be a fifth of the projected number of employees working for the family. Three and a half years ago they set up a factory to produce 33 different chilled and frozen Indian dishes, under their own name - Mumtaz was adamant about that - for Morrison's, Asda, Co-op and airport outlets. Mumtaz already had enough on his plate but persuaded his brother Akbar to give up being a neurosurgeon and become responsible for production. Now they're building a new 80,000sqft factory that will employ around 400 people when it opens next year.
Who knows whether Mumtaz will feel able to stop expanding. "My brother says `relax', but I can't do it - it's an addiction." Caroline Stacey
The Mumtaz, 400 Great Horton Road, Bradford (01274 571861)
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