Union square

How Riksha put Aberdeen’s Union Square woes behind him

When Riksha, the only independent restaurant in Union Square in Aberdeen, closed last month, its family owners made sure one thing went with them: their rickshaw.

After all, what difference does another mile or more make to a vehicle that – for Riksha’s opening in 2019 – has traveled all the way from Bangladesh to Aberdeen?

Now, as the Miah family start a new business in Rose Street’s Shahbaaz Tandoori, the three-wheeled rickshaw is about to add some more mileage to the clock.

Co-owner Anis Miah plans to use it to transport diners from the restaurant to their cars.

The rickshaw represents continuity at Shahbaaz Tandoori.

“My rickshaw is redundant at the moment,” says Anis, who is in contact with the council to get permission to drive the buggy on the road. “A year from now we will be looking for a rickshaw driver.”

If the plan comes to fruition, it will be an important moment for the rickshaw, which last carried paying customers through the busy streets of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

Compared to that, Union Street might be a slight change of pace.

Union Square Challenges

But the rickshaw is also a symbol of continuity for the Miah family, which is moving to Shahbaaz Tandoori on Rose Street after three tumultuous years in Union Square.

The family, which previously owned Cinnamon on Union Street, opened Riksha in the Aberdeen shopping center in August 2019.

Riksha on Union Square closed last month.

The three Miah brothers, Anis, Khalis and Jab, took over the leadership of the new company.

Under their leadership, Riksha was a continuation of Cinnamon’s mission to bring the new fine Indian cuisine to the northeast. Union Square, with its on-site parking lot, well-known shops, and high-profile chain restaurants, seemed like the perfect fit.

A few months after opening, however, Covid restrictions hit, forcing restaurants across the city to turn to home delivery to make a profit. But, even as customers returned, Union Square proved a difficult place to operate an independent family restaurant.

“Union Square is a great place to do business, but in terms of footfall, it’s very tight,” says Anis. “There are no passers-by.”

Khalis Miah.

The Miahs discovered that visitors to Union Square were there to shop or watch a movie, not a sit-down Indian meal. Anis calls the mall more of a “fast food type food court.”

Another issue was Union Square’s requirements that restaurants be open daily during “main” hours from noon to 9 p.m.

For a family run establishment, this put extra strain on the staff and demanded a lot from Khalis and Jab, the restaurant’s main chefs.

Union Square ground rents—five times what the Miahs now bear on Rose Street—were also a factor.

“Union Square was fantastic for us, especially during Covid times,” says Anis. “But on the other hand, they have more senior bosses who have expectations. The business we were doing wasn’t doable, so it’s kind of a discount from what we had.

Union Square owners Hammerson did not respond to a request for comment. The property group this week announced the sale of Union Square for £140million.

A modern take on Indian cuisine in Aberdeen

For the Miah family, the focus is now on bringing the modern culinary ethos of Cinnamon and Riksha to Shahbaaz Tandoori.

At the same time, they want a smooth transition from former owner Shahbaaz Tandoori, who established a loyal and devoted following on Rose Street. Anis says the previous owners, who are friends of the family, were looking for someone new to take over the reins.

Kitchen staff have been retained to ease the transition, although Anis is keen to imprint her family’s own identity on the much-loved restaurant.

A point of difference is that while the ancient Shahbaaz Tandoori focused on Pakistani cuisine, which uses vegetable oil, the Miah family, of Bangladeshi origin, tends to use ghee.

The new owners of Shahbaaz Tandoori say they do home-cooked Indian food.

The Miahs also cook rice differently, favoring fluffier rice, where each strand receives special attention.

“It’s authentic home cooking,” says Anis when asked to describe the style of the new Shahbaaz.

Homemade samosa with green chutney.

“We are moving away from commercialized Indian foods such as your batch cooked chicken tikka masalas, sauces and sauces. We add more of an authentic homemade flavor to it – the way my mom does it.

The 33-year-old Aberdonian remains confident of shaking up the city’s Indian restaurant scene.

Anis Miah, co-owner of Shahbaaz Tandoori.

He points to the recent popularity of Indian street food and incorporates it into Shahbaaz as yet another way to attract diners looking for something different.

“You have customers coming in and they just want a korma, which is good because that’s what the international market offers,” says Anis.

“But why don’t you try the korma we eat at home, instead of the korma you were told was the real deal? It’s not [the real deal]. There is a difference.”

Shahbaaz Tandoori basmati rice pilaf.

Aberdeen’s Vegan Explosion

Anis also learned a few lessons from her time in Union Square, including the emerging demand for vegan dishes.

Indian cuisine lends itself well to plant-based cooking, but Anis says Riksha’s vegan menu has grown a lot during her time in the mall, growing from just three or four courses to a dedicated vegan section.

Shahbaaz Tandoori is ready for a dedicated vegan menu.

The plan is to do the same in Shahbaaz.

“We’re not looking to come here and turn everything upside down,” says Anis. “What we’re looking to do is replace what we have and make it better. In this way, we will continue to improve.

Shahbaaz Tandoori is open every day except Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. The address is 19 Rose Street, Aberdeen, AB10 1TX.

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[How Riksha put Aberdeen’s Union Square woes behind it]