What Arfan Razak learnt from Gordon Ramsay
James McKeigue Jun 08, 2012
Chef Arfan Razak followed a boyhood dream
Arfan Razak’s entrepreneurial career started in 1986 when he was 18 years old. He bought a house and rented it out to fellow students. A few years later he was able to buy another. “Things were different back then, the banks were a lot more willing to lend and students were prepared to live in very basic conditions.” The booming housing market in the late 1980s gifted Razak more collateral to hunt out new property.
But in 1990 everything changed. The housing market started to slump. Worse, later that year he was involved in a near-fatal car accident. Razak was confined to a wheelchair for 18 months and took three years to recuperate. The crash affected his studies, forcing him to abandon plans to become a doctor. He changed his course to applied biology and eventually graduated in 1995.
Determined to make up for these “lost years”, he went to London and worked as a sales director for a string of pharmaceuticals, including US giant Pfizer. Over the next decade he gradually worked up the ranks before taking charge of an £80m sales group that sold blockbusters such as Viagra. “I was lucky that the job was well paid but it was never my passion.” Still, the extra income helped Razak add to his property portfolio, which he now registered as a separate business, Amaan Developments.
“The housing market was picking up again so the timing was good. I moved away from student houses and started renovating run-down properties in nice residential areas.” He would reinvest the sales of renovated houses into buying more and the average size of his portfolio swelled to eight properties.
But while the housing business was going well, “I was working crazy hours and missing important family moments”. The turning point was when he missed his daughter’s birthday. “I thought to myself, I already have all the creature comforts I need, why am I working hard for more?” He decided to follow a boyhood passion. “I’d always wanted to be a chef.”
In 2007 he opened the Curry Lounge in Nottingham. But despite investing heavily, “it was a disaster. The food was great but everything else was terrible. I didn’t know how to run or market a restaurant.” One of his biggest mistakes was his kitchen. “After only a few weeks of opening I had to spend £8,000 refitting the kitchen because the original one just wasn’t practical for the chefs.”
Razak decided to enlist the help of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. In a memorable TV episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, the foul-mouthed Scot helped him turn it around. “It was great for the business and also a good bit of publicity,” says Razak. “Other Indian restaurant owners saw me on the show and started asking for advice.” That gave him the idea to create a franchise of his Curry Lounge restaurant. “People told me I was crazy... Asian families... don’t use franchises. But I decided to give it a go.” Razak signed up his first franchisee, a London-based restaurant, in 2009, and has since signed two others.
Not a man to shun publicity, Razak, now 43, recently appeared on the Channel 4 programme The Secret Millionaire. His restaurant and property portfolio is valued at £6m.
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