By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter
The owner of a family restaurant which weathered recession is fearful for its future as tourists stay away from London.
Mahmad Ullah, who is known as Mo, said things are really tough at his 63-year-old South Kensington eaterie.
He said: “There’s never been a time when we’ve asked how we are going to pay the rent.
“It’s really difficult, it’s been a really challenging time.”
The Indian restaurant, Moti Mahal, is just round the corner from South Kensington Tube station.
It was founded in 1957 by cousins who came to the UK from Bangladesh and features in the US tour guide to London by Rick Steves.
Normally the area sees thousands of people every day – many visiting the Natural History, Science and Victoria and Albert museums nearby.
But numbers have dropped dramatically.
Mr Ullah said: “We’ve seen a 92 per cent reduction in turnover. Tourism normally accounts for about 55 per cent of our sales. And we have a good relationship with clubs and hotels which used to send tourists to us.”
Other customers include people who come over from the USA to live in the area for a few months – but they have not visited this year.
Diners also come from the Brompton Hospital and Imperial College just up the road.
The restaurant reopened in July once all the new safety equipment was in place and saw some boost from the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
“It was quite good for us,” said Mr Ullah, who joined the business in 2002.
Since that ended the restaurant is offering happy hour discounts from Tuesdays to Thursdays.
“We’ve spent £2,000 on screens in the restaurant and have all the safety measures in place,” said Mr Ullah.
A team of eight usually work at the restaurant in Glendower Place, including waiting staff who have been there for 17 years.
They were furloughed during lockdown and it’s uncertain when they will be back at work.
Mr Ullah’s brother Mohammed has worked there as the chef since 1986.
“It’s a real family business with so many staff with us for a long time. Right now my wife Rubina is helping out,” he said.
The restaurant is currently open every evening except Mondays.
And the limit on the number of people who can meet will also have an impact.
“A lot of our contacts are coming in twos or fours. We usually have big bookings – we used to have a lot of people coming from Imperial College and big bookings, so it’s a big worry for us,” said Mr Ullah.
“We usually have bookings of 20 people, with a minimum of 15. These are clearly gone because we can’t let them have more than six people. It’s a worrying time for us.”
Pictured top: From left, Mahmad Ullah, Rahmat, Mominal Hoqe and chef Akram Ahmed, who has been main chef at Moti Mahal since 1986
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