Multiple lock-downs cripple restaurant business in Kashmir

“We are laying off our staff, unable to pay rent, forced to give up businesses”
Multiple lock-downs cripple restaurant business in Kashmir
File Photo: Mubashir Khan/GK

The restaurant business in Kashmir which was growing from past many years has received a body blow due to continuous lock-downs. The restaurant owners say that the business was always at risk due to uncertainty that often prevails in Kashmir but they were somehow managing the show. However they said that post August 2019 they are struggling to keep the business afloat.

These restaurant owners say that a huge financial loss has been inflicted on them due to continuous lock-downs. They said that they are now thinking to give up their business.

Hakim Mehjoor, who runs café99 restaurant in Lalchowk said that he is thinking to give up the business as he struggles to keep the business afloat. Hakim, who started the restaurant in 2016 said that since the first year the uncertainty has prevailed putting his business at risk.

"As I started the restaurant in 2016, Kashmir witnessed one of the biggest lock-down post Burhan Wani killing and restaurants were closed for months. Then following two years were full of hartals in which we lost months. In 2019 the scrapping of article 370 started the months long lock-down. As we tried to get back on our feet, the covid pandemic hit us and we are still in lock down due to its second wave," Hakim said.

"A lot of investment goes into the business. We have to pay for equipment, staff, rent and other expenditures. Recently the owner of my space came and I could not pay him. This time I handed over my restaurant keys to him with a heavy heart as I had almost made up my mind to give up the business. This is after I invested over Rs 40 lakh into the business," he said.

Yasir Altaf, who owns 'Me NU café' in Srinagar, said that like most of the restaurant owners the business has been a nightmare.

"At the end of August 2019, we tried to get back on the track but then the Covid arrived and since then it is going on. We were already drained financially and now second wave of Covid has crippled us completely," Yasir said.

He said even before 2019 the condition was not that good as hartals were a norm post 2016 in Kashmir. "I analyze my work between 2018 and mid 2019. I realized that I had to shut my restaurant for around three months due to hartals and other reasons. And, this is when Covid and article 370 issues were yet to arrive. At minimum, there is a staff between 6 to 12 people who need to be paid then there is rent also. At least one has to spend around Rs 2 lakh for these few things per month. When restaurants are shut for months we couldn't feed our own family let alone paying staff and rent" Yasir said.

All the restaurant owners who this reporter spoke to said that they had to lay off their staff multiple times during the past two years. One of the restaurant owner said that he had bought raw material worth lakhs of rupees which had to be thrown away as Covid lock-down continued.

"During first lock-down of Covid in 2020 I had to throwaway over 600 bottles of cold drinks as their date expired. I know many of fellow restaurant owners who are applying for private jobs to feed their families," he said.

Over the past few years, the restaurant business had grown rapidly in Kashmir. The concept of themed restaurant, takeaways and ordering online had picked up the pace. However with the continuous uncertainty and lock-downs, for many their business is just a sinking ship. On 24 May, as as the 27 days lock-down was further extended till 31st of this month. These restaurant owners say that they don't see any major hope in coming days as the uncertainty over Covid continues to loom large.

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