Dhruv Mittal: “If we were to reopen, the restaurant would die within a week”

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Dhruv Mittal on closing DUM Biryani and Lucknow 49 London Indian restaurants Coronavirus landlords

Related tags: Indian cuisine, Closure, Chef, Restaurant, Coronavirus, Landlord

DUM Biryani and Lucknow 49 chef patron Dhruv Mittal has spoken of his heartbreak at having to place both London sites on the market.

Mittal, who previously worked under the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Sat Bains, has confirmed that Lucknow 49 will not reopen in its current Mayfair location on Maddox Street; and that the future DUM Biryani on Soho’s Wardour Street is on a precipice. 

“Lucknow had a really good year up to December 2019, but in January, as the spectre of the Coronavirus began to appear, our takings plummeted to the point where, come March, rather than doing £15,000+ a week we were doing £2,000 a week,” he tells BigHospitality​.

“We lost so much money in the lead up to March that, when the lockdown finally did hit, we were already struggling. And now, with the market still low and social distancing greatly reducing the number of covers, the business just isn’t viable. 

“If we were to reopen, the restaurant would die within a week.”

Mittal says his landlord’s unwillingness to negotiate on rent effectively sounded the death knell in Lucknow 49, which only opened in April last year and was inspired by the cuisine of the eponymous city of Lucknow, located in the northern Indian region of Uttar Pradesh.

“We tried to ask for deferrals and rent reductions, and for the longest time the landlords were just completely unresponsive. And when they did finally get back to us, they basically just dug their feet in and demanded we pay up.

“So as a result, unfortunately we have decided to market the site.”

DUM Biryani, Mittal’s flagship restaurant that opened in late 2016 and specialises in the cuisine of Hyderabad in southern India, faces a similar threat, and has now also been placed on the market.

Property company CDG Leisure is handling the listing of both sites.

“So far our Soho landlord has offered us is a three-month rent deferral to next year. We’ve asked for reductions and the opportunity to move to a turnover-based model, as other landlords in the area have offered their tenants, and all of these proposals have been rejected.

“It’s like the world is burning down and their reaction is rather than ‘let’s try and make this work’, it’s ‘let’s kick the business out as we’d rather the site was empty than occupied by someone who can’t pay what we want’. And I find that ridiculous.”

Mittal says he’s heartbroken at the prospect of having to say goodbye to both restaurants, particularly DUM Biryani.

“We’re the first concept to make that site work in over 10 years. I poured everything I had into DUM; it was my first restaurant, and I have a great emotional attachement to it. 

“The thought of having to say goodbye to it is quite unsettling. It’s heartbreaking, and I honestly don’t think I’ve gotten over it yet.”

Despite the heartache, Mittal remains optimistic about what the future may hold.

He says he will explore the prospect of bringing back both restaurants if he can; potentially in larger venues that are grander in appearance, and offer greater scope for social distancing.

He’s also developing plans to try and bring DUM’s signature biryanis to supermarkets; and, in the more immediate future, possibly launching a delivery business.

“What I’m thinking right now is to potentially set up a delivery model that combines both DUM and Lucknow, and allows us operate multiple brands through a single kitchen space.

“I would like to bring both restaurants back, in some form. But for that to happen the market really has to pick up, and give me that confidence that customers want to come and visit. 

“Right now what we’re seeing is this massive shift in consumer behaviour where people want to experience restaurant dining at home.  

“It feels like the end of an era. Whatever form the business takes, it’ll be different in a post-Covid world to how it was in a pre-Covid world.

“And what I’m saddest about is that the pre-Covid restaurant experience, which I have built up over time and am very proud of, will likely change forever.”

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