Madhu's Indian restaurant in Southall is celebrating its 30th anniversary - the business now boasts a wedding catering service and supplies food to Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Neil Gerrard reports
Need to know Sanjay Anand MBE has been running renowned Indian restaurant Madhu's in London's Southall for the past 30 years. Anand was just 17 years old when he first set the business up with his brother, after his parents put their house up for security.
"It was a tiny restaurant, a 36-seater, and we had no staff, no management structure or anything of the sort," Anand says. "I was the waiter, manager and cleaner. My mum and brother were the main chefs. But it was almost an instant success." The reasons for that success are less surprising than they might seem: the Anands were already well experienced in the hospitality industry in Kenya, ever since Sanjay's grandfather started his first business in Nairobi in the 1930s.
But in 1972 political unrest in the country saw the family's hotels and nightclubs nationalised. The Anands were given three months to sell up and leave, or take citizenship. They took the first option and settled in the UK to start again from scratch. "We called the restaurant Madhu's Brilliant; ‘Brilliant' being my grandad's name from Nairobi. We had the Brilliant nightclub and the Brilliant hotel over there," Anand explains. The famous name and the fact that there were so many people in the area who had also come over from Nairobi at the same time meant there was no shortage of customers. In addition to the restaurant, Madhu's now lends its name to an outside catering business, laying on weddings in hotels in London, Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Birmingham, as well as supplying pre-prepared food to Harrods and Harvey Nichols. The group turns over £5.5m a year.
How the restaurant stands out Anand contends that the food at Madhu's is closer to the kind you would find in an Indian person's home than most Indian restaurants, serving foods like chapati.
"Most Asians, whether they are Bengali, Pakistani or Indian, will have chapati with their food. And yet you pick up an Indian restaurant menu and it is not on there," he says. "The other big difference is that a lot of our dishes are slow-cooked very authentically on the bone. Most south Asian restaurants in this country will cook their food off the bone." The chef also still uses Anand's grandfathers recipe for garam masala. Meanwhile, the food also has an unusual Kenyan twist, with dishes such as masala fried tilapia fish on the menu.
Target market Most Madhu's customers come from outside Southall, with the majority being affluent Asians from surrounding areas like Windsor and Gerrards Cross. However, the restaurant does also pull in a significant non-Asian clientele, particularly from central London. "Our typical customer is one who is very educated in food and will go out of their way looking for unique food," Anand says.
Marketing While the restaurant's Southall location means that Anand can keep prices lower than he would if he were based in central London, he does admit that it can be hard to persuade people to make the trip. "Our main difficulty is this perception people have that perhaps Southall is unsafe and maybe not the nicest place to come into," he says. "But Southall has its own atmosphere and uniqueness. It is very vibrant and colourful. If you are a foodie, you will be able to buy products here that you won't actually get in other towns."
To encourage non-Asians to come, aside from a loyalty card, he makes sure that the restaurant appears in guides like the Good Food Guide, Time Out and Harden's. The presence the business has in Harrods and Harvey Nichols also helps. Meanwhile, Anand reaches the Asian community, who are the target for his wedding catering business, through Asian media including Star TV and Sony TV.
Being a keen cricket fan, he also sponsored the recent Cricket World Cup on a local radio station. The business's internet presence is less pronounced, however, despite being on TopTable. "Most of it comes from regulars, word of mouth, and people who are specifically coming to eat a particular dish at Madhu's," Anand says. "In over 30 years we have tweaked the menu, but the original favourites are there like jeera chicken, methi chicken, tilapia fish, boozi bafu [lamb chops on the bone]."
Business advice Anand's best piece of business advice is simple: don't over-expand. "Although people would say £5m-plus turnover is a good business, we could easily turn that to £10m overnight," he explains. "But we have said no to the likes of Tesco. They wanted us to supply to them but we didn't like their terms and conditions. We don't want to be in a situation where someone says to us, ‘From next month we don't need your services.'"
Spotlight on staff
Anand (right) is proud of the staff he employs, some of whom have been with him ever since the business started 30 years ago. "My secretary has been with me for 16 years, my executive head chef since we were six months into the business, our operations director for 18 years. To me, they are my extended family. Their problem is my problem, and my problem is their problem. They work with 100% heart."
But he singles out his general manager Abhinav Sharma (left), who was F&B manager at the Imperial hotel in Delhi, as one of the biggest influences on the business's success. "We were always a well-run company but he deserves the accolade of adding even more professionalism to the business. It is the surroundings and the mindset that he came with from India and working in one of the top boutique hotels that helped take Madhu's to the next level," Anand says.
Facts and stats
General manager Abhinav Sharma
Executive head chef Ishfaq Ramzan
Restaurant manager Ajay Sighat
Full-time staff 52 (plus 200 casual)
Average restaurant spend £25 (including drink)
Events per year 300 (at 15 hotel locations)