From Sanderstead to Epsom Downs Amani is making a name for itself. Co-owner Azad Miah talks to Tandoori about its success.
Sanderstead is a typical commuter belt village in Surrey with plenty of leafy streets, small retail units and of course, lots of houses. There are some restaurants too, but not exactly what one would call anything to rave about.
Then in 2008, Azad Miah and co-owner and chef Rajiv Kumar decided to open an upmarket Indian in the high street named Amani.
One might say they had quite some nerve opening just a few doors down from a longstanding and well-established Indian, but Miah and Kumar – the latter had the renowned Cinnamon Club as one of the impressive credits on his CV – knew what they were doing. The idea being simple: offer refined and plated Indian cooking with quality ingredients and they will come.
“I’m from Croydon,” says Miah, “so I knew the locality and felt Sanderstead had a lot of potential. The only thing was that Kumar and I were taking rather a gamble because we were launching during a time of great economic downturn. At the same time, to counter any imbalance,
I’m a firm believer in strong marketing tactics to get the word out, whether it’s via having events and various functions at the restaurant or otherwise. You also need to change the menu regularly, run themed menus and specials.”
With the menu being constantly ‘refreshed’, Miah says that he makes a point of changing the seafood and lamb dishes every month whilst at the same time adding as many game and wild meat dishes as possible.
“Once we knew that the Sanderstead restaurant was a viable concern,” adds Miah, “it was time to move on to a second site, which is how the premises in Epson Downs came up. It was a very good price that we were being offered and I didn’t want to say no.
The area is very wealthy and that fits right into our concept. I didn’t want to miss out on such a golden opportunity. As it is, along with Oxted, Westerham and Reigate, Epsom Downs was one of the desired areas for me because I wanted to stay relatively close to Sanderstead for our second restaurant.”
The latter Amani opened in May last year and like its sister restaurant, it has a 70-cover capacity and a menu that changes regularly including supplementary weekend specials. Interestingly, like Sanderstead, the Epson Downs Amani is a just a few doors down from another Indian, only this time it’s from an establishment that has nationwide recognition, Enam Ali’s Le Raj.
“I spend the first three days of the week in Sanderstead,” notes Miah, “and the other half of the week at the Epsom location. Kumar overseas both kitchens. People ask me how we manage to maintain such good consistency at both restaurants, but we have a good team.
I know a lot of restaurant owners just won’t take the risk of opening more than one restaurant despite doing good business. But if you keep tight control and ensure that that standards are kept up then there is no reason why you can’t spread your wings.”
With a cookery masterclass being run at the restaurant as well as an arrangement with Croydon College to allow catering students to come and do hands-on training in the kitchen, Miah states that they are not looking to expand to third site as it stands. He adds: “I’m happy with the way things are going now and I’d rather keep it that way.”