Covid pandemic has left Brick Lane ‘a curry ghost town with three months left’
- Credit: Mike Brooke
Most Brick Lane curry houses facing “a devastating impact” from Covid-19 probably have just three months to survive, leading figures in the restaurant trade itself fear.
London’s world-renowned curry capital is fast becoming “a ghost town” and could be facing the wall, a top economics study has found.
Leading up to the pandemic crisis has been a massive 62 per cent decline in Brick Lane’s Asian-owned restaurants and cafés in just 15 years, according to the Runnymede Trust.
There were 60 outlets a decade ago, compared to just 23 today which are in retreat from newcomers like hipster cafés, vintage clothes shops, delicatessens and boutique chocolatiers.
Shams Uddin, who runs the Monsoon on Brick Lane, fears the Chancellor’s “eat out to help out” promotion that began yesterday won’t be enough.
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“He can cut VAT and have as many voucher schemes as he likes,” Shams told the East London Advertiser. “But what’s the point if you don’t have any customers?
“The City people go on holiday normally in August and we get the tourists. This time we’ve got hardly anyone because of coronavirus.”
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Shams had only seven customers on one of his normally-busy days — but had none all day last Wednesday.
“The landlord still wants the rent,” he adds. “Most restaurants in Brick Lane will only survive another three or four months.”
The two-year study identified rising rents and business rates leading to the decline, along with visa restrictions on recruiting chefs from abroad leaving Brick Lane with a shortage of trained staff and a retracting night-time economy by Tower Hamlets Council restricting licensing hours.
Restaurateur Bashir Ahmed, the British Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce president, said: “To tell the truth, I can’t see Brick Lane surviving much longer as the curry capital — it’s dying. That’s sad.”
The study calls for a government cash injection to help survive the Covid crisis, extending licensing hours, rent capping, more secure social housing for low-paid workers and more affordable work space.
Runnymede’s Dr Zubaida Haque said: “Covid has severely hit Brick Lane’s curry businesses, which have already been decimated by restrictive visa requirements to recruit chefs from Asia. The pandemic shutdown has turned into an economic crisis.”
Runnymede is urging the government and Mayor of London to step in with business and financial support “to help weather this harsh economic storm”.