26 May 2020

Christchurch restaurateur determined to serve the city

From Checkpoint, 6:24 pm on 26 May 2020

Covid-19 restrictions have seen scores of restaurants around the country close their doors for good.

While the wage subsidy had helped some, it did nothing to help pay commercial rents, and with little or no money coming in, shutting up shop had been the reality for many.

One Christchurch restaurateur is bucking the trend, forging ahead with the opening of his Indian restaurant, despite the new normal.  

All he was asking for was a little help with the rent.

Tanveer Jahangir's Top In Town restaurant was due to open on 15 March.

Having sold his home and businesses in Brisbane and moved his wife and five kids to Christchurch. He was all in, excited about starting a new life in New Zealand and anxious to see some money coming in from his new venture. 

Then came Covid-19.

"It was all set up to go. We had flyers printed and distributed and our website... [then] our country went into the lockdown."

Everything was harder to do in lockdown, let alone trying to hire staff to work at a new restaurant.

Some of the chefs he was looking to employ needed their work visas changed, allowing them to switch employer, but delays at Immigration New Zealand meant they were still not able to man his kitchen.

"I went into too much of a depression, sleepless nights, thinking of how the business will be after this Covid 19."

In the meantime he continued to pay rent on a restaurant that after two long months he was still not able to open.

"If my landlord listens to this and [agrees to] waive this in a good faith [way] in the long run it will help for the owner and for me as well...because without any income coming through I am almost dried up now...I am here to create more jobs and bring something different to the community."

Despite everything, Jahangir was determined to get his restaurant open.

New rules banning buffets, due to the risk of spreading Covid-19, were brought in shortly after he had installed expensive bain-maries.

The answer: glass screens shielding the food from behind which wait staff would do the serving instead.

Part of the move here was to support his brother, fellow restaurateur and mosque shooting victim Ahmed Jahangir.

As a Muslim Tanveer had no misgivings about moving to Christchurch despite last year's shootings and wanted to pay it back to the health workers who helped his brother, once the restaurant was up and going.

"When the mosque shooting happened I flew from Australia to Christchurch and stood in the hospital for 12 days, and the job they have done, I can't explain, from my heart, it's a tremendous job they have done. As a gesture, I can't do much, but on my opening day, I want to invite each and every health worker from Christchurch or wherever to come and enjoy free lunch and dinner on that particular day. It will be from our heart."  

The invite was also open to the police officers who helped out that day, who he said had helped Muslims in Christchurch to feel safe again.

On the day Checkpoint visited, things were looking up.

Tanveer had just received an email saying Immigration were prioritising sorting the paper work for his chefs.

He said all going well, he would have the restaurant open in two weeks.