Rehan believes in local, local, local as he helps revolutionise Asian cuisine
- Credit: Poppy Jakes
From the classrooms of Torquay Boys' Grammar to becoming one of the leading faces and figures of the country's network of Asian restaurants.
Rehan Uddin - and his family - have certainly tasted the ups and downs of business life.
Now he is helping the well-known Bombay Express Restaurant In Torquay to Bounce Back with a smart new approach as it revolutionises the nation's attitude towards how it thinks about South Asian cuisine from the heart of the English Riviera.
He is also now a national figure and leader in the world of Asian restaurants.
The Uddin family has amassed 36 years of Asian culinary excellence within the area, but it has been easy. Rehan says: "The success is the result of much hard work, dedication, adaptability, pivoting, and persistence."
The origins of the Uddin's legacy goes back to 1983 when the family ran the Ganges Restaurant. It was Paignton’s introduction to the tastes of India and quickly proved to be extremely popular.
Due to the restaurant's success, the Uddin empire began to grow. Not long after, they were able to open further branches; Kismot restaurant Paignton and Shimla restaurant in Brixham.
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However, the family were severely affected by the recession of 1996, which forced them to sell off their restaurants in a collapse that they could not have seen coming. Their rebound was fast, furious and to the point! Soon after, they opened the Gandhi Takeaway - one of the first full-delivery Indian restaurants in Preston, Paignton.
The Bombay Express' owner and Head Chef Rehan were involved with Gandhi from the age of 11! That led to an ever-evolving fascination with food, technology and sustainability teamed with a passion for bringing authentic South Asian cuisine to the Bay. Even as a child, he would help out with phone calls, packing up takeaways, and going out on deliveries with his mother.
Little did he know, but this was a matter of survival, and alongside his studies, at the local grammar school, he happily rolled up his sleeves to aid his parents in their time of need.
The Uddin family would then move from Foxhole to Brixham and open the much-loved Balti Nights and Balti Palace in 1999. By 2009, they had sold off both to take on the Bombay Express.
Rehan says: "The road was still not paved with gold. Bombay Express took a huge hit in their first year of trading, with the post-2008 recession in full swing."
He took bold risks with the menu that were more suited to big-city London than a smaller regional town.
Knowledge was key. He was a student of the game and already had 13 years of industry experience under his belt by the time he was 25.
Now he is also the Managing Director for the Asian Restaurant Owners Network - which sets the standard for Asian restaurants nationwide.
He says he 'opened the doors to inclusion and destroying the floral carpet and velvet curtain stereotype with the YouTube show 'Chilli Chilli Bang Bang' and the music video 'Aron The Way Up!'.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he had time to evaluate his business strategy, pivot, and adapt to the coming trends for 2021.
He decided to update Bombay Express's menu to include even more plant-based options.
He says: "The plant-based clientele grew, and more emphasis was placed on a smart food concept, locally sourced, healthy eating, and transparency of ingredients."
He has a commitment to the local community.
He also decided amid the pandemic to go all in and upgrade the restaurant's interior design, focusing on health and wellbeing. Combining a colonial-inspired ambience for the surroundings to reflect this new era in SMART Asian cuisine.
He was determined to work 'smart' and play a stronger role in eliminating waste, supporting local and generally taking a more conscientious approach to business He says he coined the phrase 'Smart Food Dining'.
And he strives to work with as many local producers as possible, including a butcher and fishmonger just a stone's throw from the restaurant.