Suhel Ahmed wanted to bring a live tiger into his Indian restaurant to celebrate the South London curry house’s 40th anniversary. But he had to settle for a camel.
The 32-year-old is now at the helm of the Tower Tandoori.
His grandfather Israaf Ali opened the curry house in Tower Bridge Road in 1978 as part of a wave of Indian restaurants that popped up around London during that period.
Suhel said: “We had a camel in for our anniversary, it wasn’t my first choice though. I wanted a tiger. “But then we started thinking about the insurance and I was told that the tiger would have had to be injected regularly to keep it sedated.
“I didn’t agree with that. We then looked at maybe bringing in a monkey. That was turned down, so a camel was the next best option.
There’s a lot of camels in India.”
Suhel believes his grandfather was a fearless trailblazer and that spirit has driven the business ever since.
Ali came from Bangladesh in the 1960s and worked in a company providing tablecloths for restaurants before starting Tower Tandoori.
Suhel, a father-of-two, said: “My dad and grandad had to battle for this place. It was proper racist London back then. They have physical scars on them from then.
“They had to fight for their place in the community and they were eventually accepted.”
The restaurant had to adapt as South London changed over the years.
Suhel, who grew up in Borough but now lives in Lee, said: “The place was like a local when grandad ran it. People would drop in and just say hi.
The menu was completely different, it was just meals like the Tikka Masala, Korma or Vindaloo with bottles of Chablis.
“The Yuppies and the tourists have now moved in. We saw this happening and changed quickly. “We were the first on the Indian takeaway scene in London to use Ubereats, Deliveroo and Hungry House. “We had to change our menu.”
Indian restaurants have been struggling in the UK lately with a substantial staff shortage.
The Government clamped down on immigration and as of April 2016 restaurants face a £2,000 fee on importing skilled labour, as well as a work permits scheme that imposes a salary threshold of £29,750, including rent and accommodation.
A report by the Asian Catering Federation last year found that 17,000 Indian restaurants will disappear from high streets inside a decade, that’s almost half of the roughly 35,000 that exist today.
Suhel said: “We’re feeling the effects. But we’re so proud of this place and we would never let it go.
“We’ve branched out and we have a few other businesses but this is our first love. “We’ve got some big plans to keep celebrating our 40th.”
To find out more about the Tower Tandoori, go to www.towertandoori.co.uk or call 020 7237 2247.