As ‘curry houses’ go you’ve probably heard of Akbar’s: with twelve branches throughout the UK, there is bound to be one in a town near you, and if there isn’t there probably soon will be.
Akbar’s, like its name, has gone on to achieve greatness in the hospitality industry, and in a period of economic austerity as other businesses struggle, this success is all the more impressive. At Spice City we feel it is important to showcase and celebrate the best of the curry industry; to highlight its importance on the cultural landscape, and in the hope it will inspire others to achieve new heights. We asked Akbar’s founder Shabir Hussain to reveal the secret of his success.
Shabir Hussain already knew, aged just 18, that he wanted to open his own restaurant, and that it would be called Akbar’s. Had young Shabir been propelled from 1988 to the present day Marty McFly style, he might have been surprised to find he didn’t own one restaurant; he had twelve.
Some people have a great capacity for success – they seem to expect it; and this is exactly what Shabir demanded of himself, his staff and his business, and is embodied in simply calling it Akbar’s, after his father, meaning ‘great’. A statement of intent, this meant there could be no settling for anything less than great – and it is a standard that Akbar’s has maintained throughout its evolution. This is most in evidence in the awards haul the chain has garnered, most recently winning a double – for Best of Manchester and Best Marketing Campaign – at the English Curry Awards 2013.
At the heart of the Akbar success story is the drive and enthusiasm to create an unrivalled dining experience. With restaurants throughout the North, in Birmingham and Glasgow, an Akbar’s has been opening at ‘a rate of one a year since 2003’ Shabir told Curry Culture in an interview last year. And he has sustained the momentum having opened Akbar’s Oriental since and rising to a new challenge in delivering a different cuisine to his market.
Future plans propose venues in Edinburgh, Leicester, Nottingham and Milton Keynes, to which Spice City jokingly enquired ‘why stop there – what about London, Paris and Rome?’ Once again, it seems Akbar’s is one step ahead with sites in Paris already being eyed up for exporting the Akbar’s brand abroad.
At Spice City we were wondering, if it’s so easy for Mr Hussain to replicate his model, why haven’t other restaurants done the same, and why are so many struggling? Put simply Mr Hussain told us that it came down to the combination of using the freshest ingredients to create the best food, employing the right staff and having the right campaign strategy. But in reality the answer is a little more complex, admitted Shabir. ‘Everyone knows what you need to achieve but actually doing it every night of the week is the trick,’ he said. ‘If you go to one of our restaurants on a Tuesday it will be busy; once you’ve got your clients you need to keep them by delivering as perfect an experience as possible on every visit.’
“…once you’ve got your clients you need to keep them by delivering as perfect an experience as possible on every visit.” – Akbar’s founder, Shabir Hussain
And this is the standard he strives to reach again and again. It is this vigilance and marketing awareness that gives him the edge. But none of this would be possible if Shabir did not have a great appreciation for good food and a great dining experience. A keen cook himself, Shabir has creative influence on all the dishes, confessing to a love of starters and curries and even dabbling in desserts – particularly where presentation is key. He finds returning to his roots in Pakistan fuels his passion for food and he returns fired up with ideas and inspiration.
Akbar’s recent double-award scoop joins a legion of other trophies including, most recently, Curry King for 2011 and 2012, and the awards for Creative Menu and Best Restaurant Design at the Scottish Curry Awards 2013. With the curry industry constantly evolving and facing the same economic difficulties as many businesses, Shabir acknowledges the importance of awards ceremonies as a platform for the sector, adding: ‘awards are important as they give recognition to individuals for their hard work, and it motivates them to achieve more.’
Despite a tough economy Shabir remains positive: ‘In any business it is survival of the fittest. Those who are focused and are able to adapt in difficult financial and economical times will always succeed.’ This philosophy sums up why Akbar’s is well placed to conquer any town or city it sets its sights on: like I said, soon there’ll be one near you!