When you think of traditional Indian restaurants in Cardiff, chances are the first place that comes to mind is Juboraj.
During its heyday, Juboraj had restaurants in South Wales, including its flagship product in Rhiwbina, as well as branches in Cardiff city center, Cardiff Bay and Lake Roath.
With only one restaurant and one takeaway left in the group, Juboraj has reinvented itself with a new grocery store in Cardiff Bay that opened just a few weeks ago.
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Babru Miah, one of the Miah family members who has run the Juboraj since its inception in 1989, oversees the new business.
Cardiff Bay is a great location for Juboraj’s new venture as its forerunner and Wales’ first curry house, The Bombay, once stood around the corner.
Speaking about the history of Bombay, Babru said: âMy grandfather came from Bangladesh in 1963. He worked on ships and Cardiff docks were one of the busiest ports in the world.
âHe stopped at the Cardiff docks and got involved with one of his colleagues and started the Bombay restaurant on West Bute Street.
âMy grandfather was a cook. He brought my father [Hiron Miah] in the country a few years later and my dad took my mom and older brother with him.
âMy father started working in the restaurant and gradually took over Bombay. Then the wharves deteriorated with the decline of the coal industry.
Back in the days of The Bombay, curry houses weren’t like the Indian restaurants we’re used to today.
âIt was completely different; people didn’t come in until one in the morning when the pubs closed, âBabru said.
âAnd the curries were very different. They were made for the British palate because people weren’t used to spices. They had to be creamier. And a lot of spices weren’t readily available, as they are today. So they made do with what they had.
As eating habits changed and the Bombay closed in the 1980s, Hiron spotted an opportunity to open an altogether more sophisticated establishment.
âIn the 1970s and 1980s Indian restaurants were curry houses. So daddy thought, well, you know, we need an Indian restaurant where people can go for a nice dinner; trends were changing and the economy was improving a bit. In 1989 he founded the Juboraj restaurant in the village of Rhiwbina, âBabru said.
“He asked my uncle [Ana Miah], who worked in London in an Indian restaurant, to come and partner with him and the rest is history.
At the time, the Juboraj in Rhiwbina was new to the city’s food scene.
âIt was probably one of the biggest Indian restaurants with a capacity of 100 which was unheard of. All the curry houses were small. So we changed the dynamic of going out for a curry, âBabru said.
âRhiwbina being an affluent region, the community understood it very well. It was nice to be in the high end of the market where people don’t hesitate to go out and dress up and spend a little more to get a little more quality.
Building on the success of Restaurant Rhiwbina, other Juboraj branches followed, providing vital work for the extended Miah family.
âThe next restaurant was Mill Lane in Cardiff city center and the plan was to open another restaurant every five years. Mill Lane did very well with the rugby internationals and we already had Rhiwbina fans now. They just bounced off each other.
âWe faced Roath Park Lakeside five years later, then Newport, Swansea, Rogerstone and Abercynon. At one time, I think there were eight restaurants. All because there were more family members coming to the country and it provided work. It gave everyone the opportunity to make a living.
Whereas in the past there was no shortage of family members to work in Juboraj, today it is not the same.
âObviously today is another generation. The generation under us, they’re not interested – they’re all educated, âBabru said.
âThey are teachers, accountants and lawyers. They all have high end jobs and they are not interested in restaurant management.
In 2006, the next big change for the company came with the opening of Juboraj Express.
âWe found that many people coming to the restaurant for take out were blocking the storefront and there was too much pressure on the kitchens. So we started a delivery business and Juboraj Express was born, âBabru said.
âWe were one of the first Indian restaurants to deliver; we were before Just Eat and UberEats and all that. When we started we had Smart Cars driving around the city.
The UK’s decision to leave the EU in 2016 was the next cause for change.
âSince we decided to leave the EU, costs kept increasing and curry industry restaurants across the country were closing left, right and center. And we were one of those hit hard, âBabru said.
âSo we decided, thinking ahead, to close some restaurants in 2019. They were coming to the end of their leases anyway. Everything has a lifespan, doesn’t it? We’ve been in the game for so long that we can see the trends and how things are going to play out. “
In quick succession, restaurants Roath Park, Cardiff Bay and Mill Lane have all closed their doors.
âThey have been established benchmarks within our industry, within our organization as well. But that was a blessing in disguise because a few months later the pandemic hit and everyone was like “Did you know this was going to happen or something like that ?!” Babru said.
As restaurants were closed, business on the Juboraj Express skyrocketed during the pandemic.
âEveryone was stuck at home and therefore wanted to be delivered. Initially, we made the decision to stay open while everyone was closing and panicking. We thought people were going to need to eat and we had to provide this service. We were already prepared for this and ahead of the game, âBabru said.
âIt was hard work, don’t get me wrong. There have been thousands of meals and sleepless nights during the pandemic. As key workers, we were able to go out and provide service to people.
With more people working from home, this gave rise to the idea for Juboraj’s latest business, Juboraj Deli, which opened in Cardiff Bay just a few weeks ago.
âPeople were stuck at home and working from home, so we thought there was a demand for people who wanted food during the day,â Babru said.
The grocery store sells a range of curries, soups, wraps, salads and biryanis that are set at a price designed to appeal to the lunch crowd.
âThese are really grab-and-go stuff. Everything is cooled down and we can warm it up or people can take it back to the office or home and warm it up themselves. It’s convenient isn’t it, it’s what people want, âBabru said.
âAnd now people are slowly starting to come back to the offices, looking for something different from Subway and Greggs for their lunch.
âIt’s good to have restaurants, but if your overhead is too high, you have to make a decision and change your business model.
âOur plan is to have a few more of these delicatessens. Hopefully one in the city center. We have to be where the traffic is, so it’s a matter of finding the right location.
While the Juboraj Deli finds its marks, the Juboraj in Rhiwbina is still overseen by Ana Miah and is a ubiquitous element in the local community.
âIt’s nice to see generations of people go from grandparents to parents and now their kids come in and eat,â Babru said.
It has also been popular with famous faces over the years.
âWe used to have a lot of celebrities and politicians. I think John Major arrived when he was Prime Minister and Eric Clapton did too, âBabru said.
âEven now we have Sam Warburton, he’s a local Rhiwbina boy and he’s a regular at Rhiwbina restaurant. We’ve had fantastic support over the years which is obviously the secret to success.
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