Hari Bibhor Karki: Incapcacitated
There was a time when Hari Bibhor Karki used to take part in almost every social function in London. Whether it was a charity programme or a literary function, he would hire a taxi and travel from Aldershot to the British capital. But for the last five years, he has been incapacitated and is leading a secluded life in his home. After suffering from stroke, Karki has been paralysed and is being taken care of by his wife, Meera.
After working for six years at the British Army, Karki arrived London in May, 1968. He was sponsored by Riju Bhagavanani, who arranged a work permit for him to work in his Quality Restaurant. Shyam Maharjan and Mohammed Rafi had also come from Kathmandu along with Karki. Later, Riju asked him to look after the management of the restaurant. He recalls having interviewed Dhan Bahadur Mali, Ishwor Manandhar, Punyadas Madhukami and Sete Gurung in Kathmandu and bringing them over to London.
After leaving Quality, Karki joined Nataraj. But, when it caught fire, he moved to Volga restaurant. After sometime, he joined the Portman Intercontinental Hotel near Marble Arch. In the meantime, he also acquired a degree in hotel management.
After saving some money, Karki launched the ‘Johnny Gurkha restaruant’ in Aldershot—also known as the town of Gurkhas. He ran the restaurant for 35 years until 2001. After retiring from the restaurant business, he published an autobiography entitled ‘Johnny Gurkhas is with me.” In the book, Karki has described about his life and times in the UK.
“In those times, running a restaurant was not an easy job. There would always be a shortage of qualified staff. Trained manpower would leave the work mid-way and there have been times when I and my wife have run the whole business,” he added.
Founder chair of the Nepalese Caterers’ Association UK and a well-known social worker, Dhruba KC, said Nepalese community will always remember the contributions made by Karki. “No history would be complete without mentioning the contribution made by Mr Karki to the Nepalese restaurant sector in the UK,” said KC, who runs Wembley Tandoori restaurant at Wembley.
A Living History – Kaluram Tamang
When you start talking about the history of Nepalese restaurants in the UK, name of Kaluram Tamang appears in one way or the other. He is known for his contribution to introduce Nepalese cuisine in the UK.
In 1968, Kaluram was working at the New Road Green hotel in Kathmandu when he met an Indian businessman who was looking for a Chef for his restaurant. After initial discussions, he readily agreed the offer. Along with his colleagues, Krishna Bahadur Thapa and Shyam Maharjan, he arrived London the same year.
After working for three years at the Quality restaurant, Tamang bought the same restaurant in partnership with Mr Laxman Thapa and Jaya Krishna Tamang. After running the restaurant for around five years, he bought another restaurant, Light of Nepal, at Hammersmith. Laxman Thapa, Madan Thapa, Dhruba KC and Jaya Krishna Tamang were his partners. He ran the restaurant for 32 years.
Tamang, who is leading a retired life since 2007, still feels energised when talking about the restaurant business. The 73-year-old Tamang recalls that meeting a Nepali would be a matter of joy in those times. “We used to go to the Nepalese embassy to meet people from Nepal. Later, we could also meet like-minded people at the Yeti Association,” he recalls.
Originally from Hetauda, Tamang still recalls his days in Nepal. But having spent 48 years in London, he doesn’t want to return to his country of birth now. His three brothers, sisters and other family members are living in the UK. So, it’s a peaceful retired life for him. But, he continues to advise his son, who also runs a restaurant.
Down the Memory Lane –Mahanta Shrestha
I still vividly recall the date, 10th March 1976, when I landed at the Heathrow Airport to work as a Manager at the Ealing Tandoori restaurant. I was 24 and my pay was just 25 Pound per week. Other staff used to earn just 10 Pound per week.
After working for 5 years at the Ealing Tandoori, I opened the Monty’s Restaurant in June 1980 in partnership with Bishnu Karki and Hari Singh Thapa. After running the restaurant jointly for around four years, we parted aways. I have been running the Monty’s at the Ealing Broadway for the last 36 years.
The restaurant sector in the UK has undergone a sea change over the last four decades. There was less competition in those times and the number of Nepalese restaurants could be counted on fingers. But, there was a lot of opportunity.
Nepalse Chefs competed with their Indian counterparts by launching their signature items like sizzling dishes. They brought about a revolution in sauce and curry. A Nepalese chef, Krishna Bahadur Thapa, is credited for introducing the ‘chicken tikka masala’ in the UK.
After the year 2000, restaurant sector in the UK has undergone huge changes. The younger generation wants to have new flavour in their food. You have to follow the European laws regarding health and safety. If you don’t maintain set standard, the local Council can close your restaurant any time.
Besides running a restaurant, I am now involved in the property business and also produce beer. We launched the Khukuri Beer in 2003 in a partnership. Since 2007, I have been running the business on my own. The beer, which is manufactured by using British herbs, is quite popular among the customers. The beer is being exported to around a dozen countries in Europe and I believe it is helping to introduce Nepal.
In my view, location, fresh food, hospitality and quality are main factors to make a restaurant popular. Health and safety, food hygiene, cleanliness, artistic decoration and change the menu regularly are quite important. In order to make the customer happy, you should go to their table from time to time and ask how did they find the food. If you offer some in-house drink for free, the customer will become a regular.
(Founder chair of the NRN UK and Ealing Chamber,Mr Shrestha is vice chair of the Britain-Nepal Chamber of Commerce and a Trustee of Shree Ram temple at Southall.)