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Are Scots losing our red-hot passion; FEARS FOR HIGH STREET CURRY SHOPS Famous Ashokas put up for sale as enthusiasm saags.

Byline: Norman Silvester

Scotland's biggest Indian restaurant chain has been put up for sale amid claims the traditional high street curry house is under threat.

We can reveal Sanjay Majhu has sold four of his 14 iconic Ashoka restaurants in the last year.

Experts say Scots are ditching traditional curry houses for cheaper cut-price chains such as World Buffet, Nando's and Hungry Horse.

Industry figures claim Government curbs on immigration has created a chef shortage, making it harder for skilled staff from India and Bangladesh to get visas and into the country.

Pat Chapman, editor of Cobra Good Curry guide, said: "There was a massive boom in Indian restaurants 25 years ago to the 10,000 we have today in Britain and it may be that we are now oversubscribed.

"It was not unusual to find two or three in the same village.

"There has definitely been a slowdown in curry consumption.

"The recession has had a big effect, with people reducing their intake from perhaps two a month to just one.

"People are still spending cautiously even now and are preferring to cook an Indian meal at home or order a takeaway rather than go for the full restaurant experience."

Majhu, a former Asian businessman of the year, said: "It is getting harder. I do not see myself expanding into Indian restaurants any more.

"People like going to World Buffet because they are cheap and cheerful. We don't have the capability to compete with large businesses like that.

"Indian restaurants still do well but they're up against a lot of competition. Personally speaking, I hope to sell most of them off. I am definitely trying to wind down the business now."

In the last year, the father-of-four has sold his Ashoka West End in Argyle Street, Glasgow, and three others, including one in Edinburgh.

Majhu, 48, who bought the Ashoka chain for PS8million from founder Charan Gill in 2005, said: "You are competing now with large chains and they are getting more savvy.

"It is getting harder to compete with things like that and it is not a market I want to be in."

Majhu, who is chief executive of the Harlequin Leisure restaurant group, is giving the managers of his existing Ashoka restaurants the first chance to buy them. He said: "We have sold four of our franchises. We always had the plan that after 10 years we would sell to existing managers. But a lot of them can't get money to fund them."

He said finding the right staff because of tighter immigration controls has also become a major concern.

Majhu added: "That's a big problem for Indian restaurants moving forward. They will have to find a way of creating the food without having the specialised skills, which they can't get from here.

"I am finding it more difficult to staff Indian restaurants. We sold Edinburgh because it is getting harder to staff them."

Puneet and Poonam Gupta, the millionaire husband-and-wife team who own the Kilmacolm-based PG Paper firm, are understood to have been approached about buying part or all of the Ashoka chain.

Last week, through their spokesman, the couple did not deny they had been approached but declined to comment further.

Award-winning chef Raj Bajwe, who runs Spice Garden in Glasgow, said: "Everyone is suffering. I get about 10 to 12 calls a day from other owners looking for a curry or tandoori chef.

"At the moment, there are too many Indian restaurants and too many restaurants generally. The number of places has gone up but the population has remained the same."

Raj says the growth in discount vouchers is also hitting the curry trade. A deal he ran at a previous curry house attracted 2100 customers but made a loss of PS16,200.

Edinburgh-based Foysul Choudhury, president of the Guild of Bangladeshi Restaurateurs who represent 500 curry house owners in Scotland, said the lack of workers is a major problems for owners.

He said: "The future is very dark.

I have been advertising for staff for the last three months at the job centre without a single person making any inquiry.

"We had a meeting last week and every member has employee issues.

"I have had to turn 20 people away because we didn't have the staff.There are restaurants where there is only one chef and one waiter working.

"I know of one member who is closing down his takeaway after the festival because he does not have the staff.

"It is difficult to find local people here who will work the unsocial hours, particularly at the weekend.

"If the Government do not do something, I can see 25 to 30 per cent of businesses closing down in the next few years.

"The restaurant industry is suffering badly. It is becoming an impossible task to run businesses."

Two years ago, we revealed a third of curry restaurants were using fake meat in a massive food fraud.

A secret report by the Scottish Food Enforcement Liaison Committee watchdogs said cheap beef was passed off as lamb in popular bhoona and korma dishes served at 46 of the 129 restaurants tested.

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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 16, 2015
Words:875
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