Arju Miah MBE, owner of The Taj Mahal in Chippenham, tells Curry Life how his achievements have had an impact above and beyond the hospitality industry
Arju Miah MBE has been involved with several restaurants since his arrival in the UK in 1980. The one remaining is his longest-standing venture, the 48-seater Taj Mahal in Chippenham in Wiltshire, which opened in 1989.
“My intention when I came to the UK was to one day have a successful business so I could stand on my own two feet,” he says. “Owning a business meant I could have a bit more freedom and hopefully provide security for my family.”
When he first came to England from Sylhet in Bangladesh, Miah started as a kitchen assistant, before working his way up to being a chef, with all his training done on the job. He opened his first business in Reading in 1984, before moving onto other restaurants in Sussex and Suffolk over the following years. He suffered some serious burns on his arm following an accident at work while cooking, but undeterred, he took a couple of months off, got married and eventually settled on Chippenham as the location for the Taj Mahal.
“I live in Swindon and Chippenham is an easy commute, I also believe it is one of the nicest towns in South West England,” he says. “There have been big changes in recent years – many people are moving here from London for example, as they can get more for their money and the travel links to London and Wales are good. When I started in Chippenham I invited local dignitaries, members of parliament and the chairman of the district council and I gave them an overview. Word of mouth spread and my restaurant’s reputation grew with publicity.”
An entrepreneurial outlook
The restaurant has built a loyal following over the years, with Miah referring to customers as ‘extended family members’. It has been shortlisted for and won several awards over the years in recognition of its food and service and most recently was named Best Curry Restaurant 2021 at the Curry Life Awards. Some of its house special dishes include Taran Special, featuring meat cooked with potatoes, egg and whole green chillies, infused with madras heat and Joy Pur, meat with onions, capsicum, garlic and ginger sauce with garlic mushrooms on top.
“I started off as a chef but I also love working front of house – one of the advantages is that I can meet many business people and the local community,” he says. “I’m an all-rounder in business, looking at
all aspects. I worked for two years as the chef, then trained my colleagues and moved to front of house. We change the menu every one to three years and refresh some of the dishes, alongside ensuring we have the staple ones that our loyal diners enjoy. But it’s not just about the curry – you need to have food and service combined at a high level.”
Testament to his loyal customer base is the support he received over the various lockdowns, while the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak. The Taj Mahal continued to trade, catering for large numbers of takeaways, which meant Miah was able to keep all his staff (one employee went to Bangladesh but returned to the restaurant one year later).
“We received some government grants during lockdown to help support the business and I retained all eight of my staff,” says Miah. “Covid taught us all a number of lessons: about discipline, respect and how to keep our distance! It made us all more patient.”
Miah’s other restaurant ventures include the one in Reading in 1984, another Taj Mahal that opened in Swindon in 2010, which he sold three years later and Miah Indian Cuisine, a 250-seater restaurant, also in Swindon, which opened in 2010 and which he sold in 2014 and which also won awards.
“I have tried restaurants that are both big and small and am proud of my achievements,” says Miah. “My plan is to train my sons to take over the existing business but I like to keep busy and there is plenty keeping me involved. I am still very interested in cooking and am often helping my chefs.”
Miah says current staff shortages are very detrimental for Indian restaurants, and could result in many disappearing altogether, unless the government proposes a more flexible work permit policy.
“We need better training facilities for the next generation of chefs – I am lucky as I have my children who are able to help,” he says. “But the restaurant industry is a challenging one to be involved in and perhaps not so appealing to the younger generation. We could train people on the job as a training college would be too expensive but the visas and red tape are also prohibitive,” he says.
Miah is proud of his achievements as a restaurateur and his community achievements have created an equally lasting impression, leading to Her Majesty The Queen awarding him with a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 2003, for his charity work. He has been actively involved in many charities and helped raise funds for a range of causes over the years.
When Bangladesh was devastated by a cyclone in 1991, Miah helped to raise funds and collect items of clothing for those in need, alerting newspapers and the local Member for Parliament to the situation.
“We are all human beings at the end of the day – some of us are fortunate in terms of what we have but others are on the streets,” he says. “I am committed to giving those less fortunate the chance to have the same opportunities I have had. However small my actions, I am helping to make a difference.”
Miah was also involved in raising funds for the Bangladesh Female Academy, a free school for girls from deprived areas of Bangladesh, and he visited Bangladesh for the opening of the school in 2006. This was the first such institute in Bangladesh where those who couldn’t afford an education could receive one for free. Other achievements include fundraising for Cancer Research for Wessex Children’s Hospice.
Miah has also held several prestigious positions with the local community and the wider field. He was president of Chippenham and District Chambers of Commerce and Industry from 2000 to 2002, the first Asian president in the body’s 100-year history. He was also the founder vice-chairman treasurer of the Bangladesh Association Swindon Area. In 2020, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Chippenham Business Awards.
“I want to be the best I can in my business and in my community life,” says Miah. At 63 years of age, his philosophy remains much the same as it was when he started out many years ago and shows little sign of slowing down.
51 The Causeway,
Chippenham SN15 3DD
Tel: 01249 444350