Popular Indian restaurant Wellington closes after 20 years

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Vikram Cheema, co-owner of Indus, sits in the quiet restaurant on a Sunday afternoon.  Its doors will close definitively on September 18, because the building is being sold.

Juan Zarama Perini / Stuff

Vikram Cheema, co-owner of Indus, sits in the quiet restaurant on a Sunday afternoon. Its doors will close definitively on September 18, because the building is being sold.

An Indian restaurant in the heart of its Wellington community is closing for good – the latest in a series of hospitality swipes in the capital.

The sale of the former Shamrock Hotel building on the corner of Tinakori Rd and Harriett St in Thorndon, home to Indus Restaurant for two decades, was the final straw after a few rough years.

Manjinder Cheema and her husband Vikram, along with Vikram’s cousin, Lovedeep Singh, had been co-owners of the business since October 2013. Its final open day will be on September 18.

“It’s a really sad decision, to be honest,” said Manjinder Cheema.

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The Indus Restaurant has been at the Shamrock Hotel since it opened over two decades ago.

Juan Zarama Perini / Stuff

The Indus Restaurant has been at the Shamrock Hotel since it opened over two decades ago.

Wellington’s hospitality community has been hit hard by labor shortages and declining guest numbers due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Red Mount restaurant on Victoria Street, a magnet for karaoke lovers and Chinese food lovers, closed at the end of July after eight years.

Another of Wellington’s best-known Indian restaurants, Tulsi on Cuba St, closed in March after nearly 23 years, following Milk Crate, Lido cafe, Espressoholic and Roti Chennai.

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Indus had resisted Covid-19 restrictions, even donating food to vulnerable communities during the pandemic. Her owners worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to keep her afloat.

It hasn’t always been easy. Neighbors objected to their liquor license and complained about noise, while a shortage of workers forced Vikram Cheema to work as a chef in addition to studying health sciences and taking another job .

“I’m not good at cooking, but I learned,” he says.

After the landlord told them in June that he had sold the building, they decided it was time to stop.

Juan Zarama Perini / Stuff

After the landlord told them in June that he had sold the building, they decided it was time to stop.

Manjinder Cheema had done the same, finishing an 8-hour shift at his day job to embark on a shift at Indus.

The restaurant was robbed in the early hours of June 24, their cash register stolen with five days wages and tips inside. It was found in a bush in Newtown, empty, and they still had to pay to replace a broken window.

When their landlord told them in June that he had sold the building, they decided it was time to stop.

Like so many others, Indus had grown to hold a special place in the hearts of Wellingtonians.

“The community supported us,” said Manjinder Cheema. “I just want to thank the people of Khandallah, Thorndon and Karori, they have been really good to us.”

He also returned his fair share. At the worst of the pandemic, they had given free meals to anyone who could not afford to eat, even delivering them to homes, and had donated food to the Salvation Army and community groups in Upper Hutt.

“We believe that if you are doing business in a community and it brings you income, you should give back in some way,” said Vikram Cheema.

The Cheemas and Singhs have owned and ruled Indus since 2013.

Juan Zarama Perini / Stuff

The Cheemas and Singhs have owned and ruled Indus since 2013.

Their staff were like family, he said, and “calls from our regulars kept us going.”

“It’s not about the money,” said Vikram Cheema.

“When you spend valuable time in a place, the money can be recouped, but you cannot recoup your time.”

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