[Advertising editorial] At this year’s Leicester Curry Awards 2020/21, Anika Balti Express took home the title of ‘Best Takeaway’. For owner Muzahid, the path to excellence was long and at times tumultuous, but most of all, rewarding.
For the now takeaway owner, the opening of Anika Balti Express in 1995 had not been a willing enterprise. At least, he didn’t expect to be as involved in the business as he is today. Some of his favourite customers might even go as far as to call him a ‘reluctant hero’ in this story. After all, for some of them, his Indian takeaways have been a weekly staple for decades.
You see, Muzahid had never intended to run a takeaway. He’d begun working in the hospitality industry at just 14 years old and had intentionally moved away from it as he grew older. But life had different plans for him and on that day in 1995, he found himself at the helm of Anika Balti Express and what followed, can only be described as an incredible success story.
He was born in Bangladesh and moved to England with his family in 1979 when he was just a teenager. The family were initially put up in a hostel, then a hotel, before being provided more permanent housing by the council. By the age of fourteen, he had begun working alongside his studies in order to support his family.
Initially, he worked in the kitchen of a high-end restaurant in Croydon before moving to the front of the house to be a waiter. After six years, he began his own business — a sari shop on Brick Lane, mainly in an attempt to provide his father with employment. It was during the time of running this business that he received an investment proposition from his brother-in-law. There was a takeaway in Leicester that he could invest in with no involvement in the day-to-day running and it was to be called Anika Balti Express.
Three years later, although Muzahid had no plans of moving to Leicester, after he was told that the takeaway had run into difficulty and would close without his involvement, he found himself moving across the country to run it. Now married, the business became a family affair with his wife also coming on board to help run the takeaway.
After working in high-end restaurants, he was determined to ensure that the takeaway maintained the highest standards of quality. Unlike most other takeaways, he wanted the kitchen to be open and visible to customers placing and waiting on orders so that they could see the hygiene measures in place when their food was being prepared. It wasn’t long before the establishment had consistently maintained a food hygiene rating of five.
He was also keen to work closely with his chef to curate a menu that would cater to all tastes, and include British-Indian staples such as chicken tikka masala but also unique dishes that were added after creative experimentation. Above all, he drew on his years of experience in the industry to re-produce flavours that he knew would delight his customers.
And for Muzahid, his loyal customer base is the reason why he’s been able to maintain the business for over 25 years. He’s had generations of families pass through the doors of the takeaway, with the children of loyal patrons becoming regular customers too. For him, the formula for success was understanding why his customers chose Anika Balti Express above other establishments and ensuring he maintained meticulously high standards of quality.
From insisting on only fresh produce from the very best suppliers, he understands that Anika Balti Express is consistently able to give its customers an experience they can’t get elsewhere. He’s also careful to ensure his menus are inclusive so that families can eat together and even has a dedicated section on his menu for vegetarian dishes.
One customer who we spoke to who says he has been ordering from Anika Balti Express on a weekly basis for over 20 years, is Adam. Along with his wife Kathy, Adam feels that Anika Balti Express is the best Indian takeaway and a worthy winner of the title at the Leicester Curry Awards 2020/21. On his loyalty to the takeaway, he says:
“I always go back to them because of the punctual service and the quality of the food.
“They’re all friendly people, especially the owner because he brings the deliveries a lot of the time.
“My favourite dishes are the lamb madras and the chicken tandoori and if on occasion, I ask them to customise an item or make it hotter or not as hot, they cater for that.
“I heard about the award and in my opinion, it was well deserved. They are the best takeaway.”