Enam Ali MBE, prominent Bangladeshi born British businessman, in his interview with Rokeya Zaman talks about the importance of preserving the culture and heritage of Bangladesh among the NRBs in the UK
A larger than life figure and businessworthy person
Enam Ali MBE -FIH, FRSA is among the most prominent British Asian personalities in the UK, known for his leadership and passionate interest in the hospitality industry. The man revolutionized Spice restaurants by bringing them to the high street in the UK. He laughingly says,
“I was working two days in a week including Saturdays in a restaurant for pocket money in my student life. I never thought for a moment that one day I would become a restaurant owner. I had a firm plan in my mind that I should return home after completing my studies. But in the end it was not possible. Somehow, a friendship developed with the people here in Britain. I thought that investment in this business might not be a bad idea after all.’’
Enam Ali now epitomizes his goal of serving the people and community.
Irrespective of geographical boundary, every success story bears a different note and the success story Enam Ali is no exception. It is not a stretch to say that Enam Ali is one of the torchbearers for the British curry industry. As a result, he is frequently seen and heard in the UK and worldwide print and broadcast media representing the Asian business sector and as an unofficial ambassador for the country.
Enam Ali has made his mark as a renowned British businessman in the U.K., as the founder and group director of several businesses that include flagship restaurant Le Raj, The British Curry Awards, ION TV, Spice Business Magazine, ION computers, Le Raj Academy and British Curry Day. He is also the director of Sylhet Women’s Medical College and Hospital. Enam Ali was named NRB (Non-Resident Bangladeshi) Person of the year 2015 by Millennium Global Magazine. He was the keynote speaker representing the UK at the Franchise India event in New Delhi promoting Skill India launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi encouraging the UK to enter into a partnership under the program.
Pioneering the Bengali food Campaign “Dine Bangladesh”
Among the many feathers in Enam Ali’s cap, one of them is the success story of the “Dine Bangladesh” campaign in 1994, which played a catalytic role in changing the perception of British diners. 85 percent of Indian restaurants are owned and operated by British Bangladeshis, and they are ensuring the success of the British curry industry, which is worth 5 billion GBP. The campaign also brought about the change in restaurant names from predominantly familiar sounding Indian names to authentic Bengali names, e.g. from Rajasthan Indian Restaurant to Rajshahi Restaurant, to name one. Enam has also developed close ties in the political arena and highlighted the Indian restaurant industry’s £4.4 billion contribution to the U.K. economy.
He has been a judge and a food critic on various TV programs such as F Word with Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal Great British Food, Great British Menu and BBC Royal Recipes, Master Chef, Great British Takeaways, and various news segments. His sound knowledge of Indian food is second to none; he is regarded as a culinary architect.
In 2012 for the first time in Olympic history, Le Raj was the only restaurant selected to serve Indian food to thousands of Olympic officials, presidents, the Royal family and diplomats. They also served iftar in the London Olympic Games during Ramadan. It epitomized Bangladeshi Biryani on a global platform. Old Dhaka Biryani legend Fakruddin also visited Le Raj and sales were through the roof.
Tale of a first generation immigrant
Among the fleet of post war immigrants from Bangladesh, Enam Ali moved to the U.K. in 1974. He was originally set to pursue a degree in law. However life had other plans in store for him. While studying he worked part-time for the TM restaurant group. This is where he developed a strong liking towards the hospitality industry. He went on to attain a degree in Hospitality and Management. Later on, in 1980, he earned an international fellowship from the Institute of Hospitality, and in 1990, he earned a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2008 Enam was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Year Honours list for his services to the Indian and Bangladeshi restaurant industry.
Enam founded Spice Business Magazine in 1998, a quarterly trade publication with articles in English and Bengali about the restaurant industry as well as community news. In 2011, he was awarded Best Business Personality by his local area at their Business Excellence Awards in Surrey in recognition of the contribution he has made to the local community by hosting various charitable events, raising over £1.02 million since 1989.
Building Image of Bangladesh: The Global Challenge 2017
In June 2016 Enam was elected president of the British-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce, to continue promoting trade and investment opportunities and cooperation between Britain and Bangladesh. During his term he led the NRB Global Business Convention in Bangladesh with 39 nation participation to celebrate NRB success and contribution to the Bangladesh economy.
After the terrorist attack, the image of Muslim countries was tarnished. Bangladesh too was not spared. During his tenure as the president of British Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry he made an unprecedented initiative and held, “The Global Challenge 2017” event.
Detailing it Enam Ali says,
“During that time there were many global challenges Bangladesh was facing and it was also a part of a wide spreading misconception of Muslims countries. My main objective during the global challenge was to uphold the true image of Bangladesh. The British Prime Minister David Cameron dispelled the real situation, and I created the environment for the politicians and civil society members to learn from the experiences. In the seminar we projected the development achievements of Bangladesh in terms of Gross Domestics Products (GDP) and other indicators and these positive sides was highlighted by the British Prime Minister and media.’’
The British Curry Awards or “Curry Oscar”
As part of community promotion, he established The British Curry Awards in 2005 to recognize excellence in the UK curry industry and to raise awareness of top British curry restaurants. The Former British Prime Minister David Cameron termed the show as “The Curry Oscars”.
At one of the awards he said:
“Oscar of the curry industry. Can I say Enam, you have been absolutely inspirational in the way you back your industry. I want to congratulate the founder, Enam Ali, who couldn’t be a better champion in this industry.”
Hoteliers that came before Enam Ali went unnoticed despite significantly contributing to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the UK because they refused to engage with the society they lived in. The second generation however, has excelled, and he promotes curry culture to remind them of their heritage. Every year, their participation, along with the cultural past, has been highlighted at the event for the past 16 years.
Enam Ali says,
“Although the curry business was started by the inhabitants of the Sub continent, it has since spread around the world. All communities are now advancing in the curry industry. It is one of the driving forces of the British economy and the British Curry Awards continue celebrating Bangladeshi heritage, food culture, and is working to expand the curry business globally. I want to continue to inspire a new generation and promote the Curry Awards to such an extent that no one could’ve dreamt before.”
“Curry Award is not an event; rather it is a story. We tried our heart and soul to present the story through the event. Every year we fixed a theme like one year we worked on Cleopatra, another year we worked on New York and Broadway. We depict Bangladesh in essence. The curry award is a bridge to expose our success stories through different media and a tool to inspire the new generation in business and heritages.”
Standing by his people
In June 2018 Enam Ali was awarded by the Institute of Hospitality for his outstanding contribution to the hospitality industry. Enam Ali says,
“I have been working with communities in different capacities for the past 30 years like by raising money for cancer patients, flood affected people of Bangladesh including victims of the Rana Plaza disaster.”
Challenges arose due to U.K.’s stringent immigration laws causing closures of curry houses. Enam Ali has been a driving force for lifting immigration limits on qualified employees helping not only restaurants but all takeout in 2019. He spoke widely and frequently about the subject in the media. Those in authority, as well as the opposition party, took note of Enam’s concerns. He expressed that he is really grateful to be able to give back to the people. It is safe to say that he has made the lives of many people in the community simpler.
This issue was discussed in both the Parliament and the House of Lords at the time. Bangladeshi eateries in the UK were having a difficult time hiring cooks from other countries. Employing cooks under the Tier 2 Sponsor License and visa scheme was costly and complicated. For the last five years, Enam has been an outspoken supporter of the “Vindaloo Visa” campaign. He himself coined the word that caused a revolution.
“I am a migrant and a British citizen. I came as a migrant and then became a citizen. I know the pain of a migrant really well. I tried to apply my own experience in government policies. During Tony Blair’s labor government I was an advisor in that panel for five years and raised these issues.”
He further adds,
“During David Cameron’s time I made the argument that you are one of the best countries in the world for promoting equality. Coming to the UK from Bangladesh has many obstacles – the argument held water and was raised in the parliament. The House of Lords and I relentlessly pushed it forward. Even the opposition party helped me. People have been able to come from Bangladesh and avail opportunities. Students and chefs are coming and working here. Earlier it was quite stringent and even Industrialists and TV channel owners were refused a Visa.”
A guiding light for community work
Enam Ali left Bangladesh barely out of his teens. With four decades of dedicated hard work he has earned his keep and epitomized his larger than life image. Enam Ali has devoted his life to the causes of community, which resultantly developed a sector and elevated the image of Bangladesh.
“I wish to be a common person and be remembered through my work and promoting people’s cause. I do not want to wear a crown on my head or a coronet with feathers. Rather to my last breath, I wish to work for people and my work is the only acquaintance and reputation that I earned. I wish to be loved by the people for my deeds,”
the Curry King concludes.