Weston restaurant owner reveals coronavirus struggles as BAME businesses 'disproportionately hit' by virus

Ershad Ali, of The Curry Garden, in Weston

Ershad Ali, of The Curry Garden, in Weston. - Credit: Angela Belassie

A Weston restaurant owner has revealed the coronavirus pandemic has been 'incredibly stressful' on his business.

Ershad Ali, restaurant director at The Curry Garden in Orchard Street, said business has been badly hit. 

The restaurant has been serving loyal customers for more than 40 years ago since it was first set up Ershad’s late father, Junab. 

Ershad, who studied business and marketing at University of South Wales in Newport, had seen custom triple in recent years due to changes in layout and menu updates.  

But lockdown, a 10pm curfew and social distancing has led to a 40 per cent loss in turnover. 

Mr Ali said: “The 10pm closure led to a loss of custom for us, especially as Indian food tends to be eaten as a late meal, and I can see no scientific explanation for implementing it. 

“We have halved our seating capacity due to social distancing. We can’t have tables of more than six people and it’s hard to plan for big events, such as Christmas parties. 

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“We have a lot of cleaning, compliance and precautions to put in place and the extra workload – for reduced income – is incredibly stressful.” 

Moslek Uddin and Shah Athar, of UK Curry Connect, at work

Moslek Uddin and Shah Athar, of UK Curry Connect, at work. - Credit: Naseem Talukdar

He said many bookings had been cancelled in recent months and he lost ‘thousands of pounds’ during the second lockdown. 

Ershad said he has received a small business grant, furloughed staff and had to let some employees go, but he has had to dip into his own savings to cover costs such as rent. 

The dad-of-two said: “I’m worried that I can’t guarantee jobs for our staff, who have been with us for around 10 years and are very good at their work. 

“I’m also worried about providing for my family and we’ve already had to make cuts at home. I’m trying to stay positive, for the sake of my family, staff and business, but when I’m alone I want to crumple. 

“I’m often awake until the early hours of the morning, my eating patterns are all over the place and there have been moments when I have wanted to pack it in.” 

Ershad said he has had encouraging feedback from loyal customers and wants his father’s legacy to live on. 

He is calling for all industries to work together and for the government to offer continued support if further lockdowns are put in place. 

He added: “I understand that people’s health has to come first and there has been government support. 

“But business could be hit even harder if there’s another lockdown and we need to think long-term.” 

Ershad’s experience has been coupled with research which has revealed black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) businesses have been disproportionately hit by coronavirus and risk of financial ruin - which could cost the UK economy billions of pounds. 

BAME communities are at greater risk of dying if they contract the virus – but face greater exposure because of the businesses they tend to run. 

The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) BAME business owners Covid report revealed nearly two-thirds of respondents said they had been unable to access government funding. 

The report found people of BAME heritage are up to twice as likely to die of coronavirus or suffer serious health complications. 

They also face greater exposure – with a tendency to work in sectors such as hospitality and retail, which involve long hours outside the home and in customer-facing roles. 

Diana Chrouch with BAME Business Owners.

Diana Chrouch (sixth from left) special advisor to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) with BAME business owners last year. - Credit: Angela Belassie

Diana Chrouch, special advisor to the APPG for BAME business owners, said: “The impact to the economy would be astronomical if a significant number of BAME-run businesses had to close. It could easily lead to a loss of billions of pounds.” 

There are reported to be 250,000 firms led by ethnic minority entrepreneurs, contributing around £25billion a year to the economy. 

Many provided frontline services during lockdown, including pharmacies, convenience stores and takeaways and general support in their community. 

Yet the report found many felt overlooked and unable to access state-backed loans and grants in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Moslek Uddin, who runs Chutneys takeaway in Aller Parade, is calling on ‘greater representation’ in government. 

He said: “Our industry has faced many challenges and this pandemic could be the nail in the coffin. 

“Lives and livelihoods are at risk and we want our voices to be heard. We need greater representation in government.” 

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