How a Granddaughter Saved East London’s Oldest Indian Restaurant From Shutting Down?
Despite all of the [mostly credible] backlash against social media’s ills, I have to admit that social media’s positive power never fails to amaze me. This feature, for example, was inspired by a tweet from a young girl in London requesting that patrons return to her grandfather’s restaurant, The Halal, which he has owned for decades.
The tweet went viral, and the responses were both heartfelt and sincere. The Halal, which opened in 1939 and is arguably East London’s oldest Indian restaurant, received a lot of love and support from its customers.
Read the story of oldest Indian restaurant
Today’s storey is less about The Halal and more about Usman Abubacker, an immigrant from Kerala who came to London in 1970 with little formal education and went on to become the owner of The Halal.
Usman, the third owner of this famous restaurant, began his career as a waiter and kitchen helper at The Halal, rose through the ranks to become the manager, and eventually purchased the restaurant from its previous owner, Chandru.
Mahaboob, Usman’s eldest son and the restaurant’s current manager, says, I got the chance to explore the world and made several trips to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and even the United Kingdom.
What happened next?
As I’m speaking with Mahaboob, Usman approaches me and asks to speak with me, saying, After all, it’s my storey; I’ll tell it the best I can.
He claims to have spent a significant portion of his life on the ship, from 1952 to 1966.
In 1966, I returned to Kerala and started a company, which did not perform as well as I had hoped, and so my quest for something better began, he says. Usman returned to London and ended up on the doorstep of The Halal thanks to a friend in Cochin.
The Halal was originally the mess of the hostel for Indian merchant seamen, with boarding on the ground floor and lodgings in the rooms above. It is now a full-fledged restaurant.
What happened actually?
It was a busy lunch afternoon when Usman went to The Halal looking for work, and the owner had asked him to wait until he could finish up before speaking with him. Usman waited outside and noticed that the owner’s vehicle was filthy. He wasn’t one to just sit around and wait, so he wanted to clean the car while he was waiting.
It was because of this consistency that he was hired at The Halal in London. There was no turning back for Usman after that, as they claim. I’ve completed all of the tasks assigned to me at the restaurant.
Usman spent a lot of time studying the job at The Halal, starting as a kitchen staff and working his way up to becoming a waiter. Perhaps it was his perseverance and determination to succeed that drove him to work long hours. The previous owner of The Halal had to return to India, which forced Usman to take over as manager.
Usman’s lack of English proficiency when he arrived in London, as well as how he learned the language, speaks volumes about the kind of person he is. Usman recalls, The first few words I learned in English were when I was on the ship and then on the job at The Halal.
In the end
My English improved during the time I spent taking orders at the restaurant. He says with years of wisdom and experience in his voice, I wasn’t one to shy away from any obstacle.
Usman was also a natural people’s guy, which was a main feature of his personality. He had an uncanny ability to read people and established a deep network of relationships among his clients, the extended diaspora in London, and the extended diaspora. When several of his friends visited London, The Halal was the first place they went.
The Halal has a plethora of testimonials and generous praise on the internet. I’ve been dining at The Halal for over twenty years, writes Mark Patterson, who has been a customer for over two decades (my dad over forty years). The furniture is a little dated, but the staff is extremely pleasant and the food is delicious. Regardless of the dish’s ‘heat,’ each dish has a distinct, authentic flavour that is never drowned out. I think the plain mutton curry would be a good place to start. The Karahi chicken and Tikka dishes are also great, but there are so many other delicious options on the menu.