Kirkstall legend Azram opens up about his closed restaurant
It was 5.30pm on Boxing Day last year, and Azram was serving his beloved customers at Azram’s Sheesh Mahal Restaurant – a bastion of Asian cuisine in Kirkstall.
It wasn’t long before water was gushing through the restaurant from the horrendous floods that hit Leeds.
Asian Express decided to revisit the popular eatery to see how the aftermath of the torrential water has affected Azram’s business.
As soon as Azram welcomed us inside from behind his ‘closed’ sign – that still hangs forlornly in the window – it was clear that the restaurant will still be shut for some time.
Wires hang from the ceilings, the floor has been taken down to its cement base and there is an eerie silence that penetrates the once bustling restaurant.
Azram said: “After most of the water had been cleared, we started cleaning the basement with my beautiful volunteers.
“We were having meetings with councillors and MP’s and we were looking into ways in which we can prevent this happening again.
“I got in touch with Yorkshire Water and told them, with the technology we have nowadays – such as our engineers in Dubai building properties in the middle of the sea without any leaks, bridges that are constructed without supports – why can’t we put some traps here that would prevent us having floods?
“We have so many wonders in the world, you’d think we could stretch to some flood defenses in Leeds.”
Yorkshire Water looked into Azram’s complaint, but they said it was a serious job, so they sent it on to another group who ‘passed the buck yet again’.
Azram continued: “Eventually, I was told that, because it was a one off and the floods don’t happen every month, they can’t put one-way traps in the business.
“I told them that I can’t sleep at night, I toss and turn, thinking about my property.
“It’s costing me nearly half a million pounds to put this place back together, and after almost six months of no trade, and losing customers, I’m at my wits’ end. And they’re telling me they can’t do anything? I can’t live with that. I want to be in a position to feel that something has been done.
“They said they can put traps in my property and it might be saved, but what about the businesses next door? If they get more water, they will blame me, saying that because I stopped the water at my restaurant, it has made theirs worse. The water came into the business internally. The water filled from inside. We need those traps.”
Azram is going to renovate his business, but the paperwork is proving to be troublesome.
“I’m relying on other people and six weeks have gone by and nothing has been done. I’ve haven’t got a penny from the insurance, the staff are still waiting on their wages and I’m just living on what I’ve already earned myself, which is not helpful.
“There is a grant. The local council has been wonderful. A grant has been made available of £2,500. But what is that? It’s peanuts. I’ve spent £1,700 pounds on the first day simply on generators, pumps and lights. It’s a seed, and they expect you to have a plant right there and then. No chance. The government need to do so much more. Local councillors don’t have power.”
Azram feels that the government has forgotten about Leeds. To him, the businesses in Kirkstall are ‘just a number now’.
“It will take four to six weeks to dry this place up. Then we’ll plaster, do the floors, the ceiling, gas-piping and lights. My downstairs is totally ruined where the kitchen once was. We’re looking at six months at the least.
“Everybody is worried and I feel sorry for my staff.
“I’ve been serving customers for 26 years, and four generations of my family have run this business.
“I have had hundreds of customers ringing me up, asking if they can do anything to help. But to me this is not about the money. I have walked on these floorboards for nearly three decades. Generation upon generation now say, ‘let’s go to Azram’s’. They call me ‘Uncle’.”
Azram is determined not to let the floods dampen his spirit. He said: “If anything, it’s given me more determination. Having this place closed for the first time in 26 years has made me realise how much I miss my customers, and the empty space that I now have in my heart for the happy times we shared.”