The ripples of Brexit, large or small, can be felt in almost every industry in the UK. For the ethnic food industry; Brexit was pitched as a lifeline, providing some hope that changes to immigration laws may boost access to the highly skilled chefs that they so desperately need. The idea was that immigrants from the commonwealth would be given priority over those from the EU, easing access to talent from the areas where the pool is deep. Recent news reports show it is becoming apparent that promises made to secure the ‘Leave’ vote from those with a vested interest in the industry will not be fulfilled. Politics to one side, the Brexit conversation shines a light on a pre-existing issue that could see the collapse of an industry worth over £4bn unless they are able to adapt.
The problem stems from the increasing trend of second generation migrants opting away from the family business, placing greater pressure on curry house owners – 9/10 of which are British Bangladeshis – to look for cooking talent from their home country. Governmental policies such as a £2,000 fee on importing skilled labour and a salary cap of less than £30k have been so problematic for the industry that it is estimated roughly 3 curry restaurants are closing each week across the UK.
To add to the industry woes; the restaurant landscape is fast changing. Take-away apps such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats are making a plethora of cuisines more accessible, accelerating diffusion into the mainstream. This has given rise to more obscure cuisines, such as Syrian, over the last few years.
But is it all doom and gloom? Metropolitan areas such as London and Manchester have witnessed an evolution of British Asian cuisine over the last few years that appears to be booming. The traditional curry house had a makeover with the introduction of high end venues such as Benares and Cinnamon Club, before regional specialists like Dishoom, Gunpowder and Hoppers brought exciting new flavours and textures to our streets. The introduction of these restaurants has been a refreshing change to what has become a declining commodity.
With the industry being challenged from all angles; adaption is essential to avert the curry crisis.