Sole owner of the Shampan Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge, Kamrul Hussain, tells Curry Life what it’s like to captain his ship single-handed.
Kamrul Hussain is no stranger to the hustle and bustle of the restaurant trade.
He started out working in a number of restaurants and takeaways mainly around London and Surrey, from an early age – before taking the plunge and opening up the Shampan Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in North Tyneside in 2016.
‘Shampan’ means a class of a boat shaped like a swan, with a Chinese and Burmese influence, so the name nicely sums up the feel of the local area, close to the seafront as well as the picturesque town of Whitley Bay.
And if the Shampan can be likened to a vessel, there’s no doubt that Kamrul is very much the captain of the ship.
He has steered the restaurant through both choppy and calm waters, on a solo basis and without investment partners or help from family members.
How has he managed so well from the captain’s bridge? He has a simple philosophy.
He explains: “It was only through having the self-confidence, a bit of luck and trying to do the best you can.
“I treat my customers like my family – and honestly believe that’s the reason why the business has been successful.
“It’s simply because my 80 or so regular and loyal customers are happy to recommend us and through them I can regulalrly get 20 or so new customers, on the weekends… oh my god, I’m so busy with new customers.”
The family feeling really shines through on a busy sitting at the restaurant, with Kamrul visiting every table.
North Tynesiders love their curry and many people enjoy the Lamb Tok Jal Mishti, Shampan Handi and Fish Chilli Korai.
“Because we are next to the town centre as well as the waterside,” adds Kamrul, “there’s lots of places to eat but you can’t beat a good curry”.
He works 24/7 to go the extra mile and the restaurant is open on public holidays and even Christmas day, when he takes huge takings – plus the customers are generous with tips, so his attitude is ‘why should I miss out on that!’
“ I work really hard, literally seven days a week – in the evenings from 5.30pm onwards and well into the night – often coming home about 4-5am; while during the daytime it’s all about shopping and going to meetings usually”.
With a new addition to his family, Kamrul is trying to limit his work schedule a little,. When he gets home his downtime is spent with his wife and baby or alone.
What drives him is his experience of twenty years in the trade during which he has learned so much. He loves to cook but as a self made man he says “ there are advantages and disadvantages to every situation in life, you have to keep on motivating yourself in new ways as it’s your own business, your own time and your own risk.
“The good thing about running your own business is that you don’t have anyone on your back telling you what to do, but sometimes it does get a bit much as I manage the business alone and don’t have any brothers, family or partners to fall back on, so that’s where I struggle sometimes.
“But saying that the girls who work here are such a great help and an asset to me. We do a lot of the day to day tasks together, like a family, which helps me manage my time, and one of my chef’s has been working for me nearly seven years; in fact all of my staff are great.”
Even so, Kamrul tells me that getting enough good staff is still one of the biggest challenges facing the industry. He doesn’t enjoy dealing with issues like immigration laws, which have increasingly been tightened.
He always chooses experienced staff, but introduces them to his way of managing the business, while always leaving room for staff suggestions and feedback. Dealing with change and adapting to different situations seems like second nature to Kamrul.
He explains: “ It’s not always easy to deal with lots of changes and raise standards at the time, but it’s good to sometimes change around my prices, my menus and also the building to accommodate the needs of my clientele
“Now with the addition of Shampan’s Gin and Prosecco cocktail lounge, built in 2019, I like to show my customers that I am always thinking of them and not being stagnant in my business development.”
He also mentions that having a solid working relationship with his chef that is key to the business’s success.
“We grew up together and he is a good friend of mine. We used to play badminton together, but the way we manage the business has to be productive, it doesn’t matter if I have had a bad day or not, we all sit down and have regular meetings with the chef and the rest of the team to discuss previous incidents and future events”.
He always likes to prevent uncomfortable situations and make sure that the restaurant provides plenty of space for his customers.
“People hate cramped spaces and I don’t like to rush them, so I sometimes have to turn custom away in order to prevent the place from becoming overcrowded and unmanageable.
“I don’t like to play boss with my staff either, as they know who they are answerable to at the end of the day. It’s about staying ahead of the competition, being your best and being unique.
“Inside the new cocktail lounge we show video promotions of the restaurant -showcasing the staff, food and what’s to come in the future. The lounge has state- of-the-art technology and lavish contemporary interiors, whilst downstairs there’s a more traditional restaurant setting; the contrast works well together.
A friendly and sociable character, Kamrul loves to enjoy his work in a lively environment and another exciting feature of the cocktail bar and lounge is an entertainment area which hosts live bands – and coming soon will be Bollywood themed nights, complete with a DJ and live singer on Friday nights.
On the cards for 2020 are other innovations, including opening another bar and club, so watch this space.
A worthy winner of a Curry Life Editor’s Choice Award last year, Kamrul sums up: “winning this award made us very proud and gave us so much inspiration to achieve even better things in the future.
“We just want to improve – and push the boundaries of Indian cuisine, while also improving sustainability standards, and striving even further to be environmentally friendly in 2020.”
185 Whitley Road, Whitley Bay