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Banned British-Born Indian food stall-holder proves the spice is right

A woman who was banned from running an Indian food stall at a St George’s Day event has won an Entrepreneur of the Year award after establishing her own restaurant in South West London.

British-born Tania Rahman, 32, made headlines four years ago when she was invited by Salisbury City Council to run a stall at the celebration only to have her application rejected on the basis her food was not ‘English-themed’.

The council were forced to do an embarrassing U-turn and, as part of an apology, offered Ms Rahman the opportunity to trade at the event which she accepted.

From humble street food stall beginnings, Chit Chaat Chai in Old York Road in Wandsworth, has now become an established award-winning restaurant which has become a popular hang-out for celebrities.

Ms Rahman, who has been named Entrepreneur of the Year at the South London Business Awards, said:

“I worked at a London-based software company and it was the best job I had ever had in my life but I quit and took a leap of faith to open my own restaurant. I’ve always been a proper foodie at heart. The problem was I couldn’t cook! I had to teach myself how to do it on YouTube!

“I travelled all across India in search of my favourite street food dishes and then worked several markets in the Hampshire area, including that now notorious St George’s Day event, before I slowly started to do food festivals. After a year of testing the waters, I knew that I was on to something. People loved the food and they could relate to the type of experience we wanted to create.”

Setting her own business up has certainly not been easy for Ms Rahman who was brought up in Andover, Hampshire by her parents who moved to the UK from Bangladesh in the 1960s when war broke out in the country.

However, despite Ms Rahman graduating with a degree in Psychology from the University of Birmingham, as was the culture, she was only expected to ‘aspire to be a wife’.

Ms Rahman said:

“Firstly, I’m a woman, and secondly, I’m Asian and Asian women are expected to go to good schools and university, but after that, their job really is to aspire to become a wife, usually from an arranged marriage. You are then expected to have lots of children. It’s very traditional like that.

“Asian women are not expected to run a business or become a business owner. The idea of starting up a business and risking everything by giving up a stable career and remortgaging my house to open an Indian restaurant is pretty crazy when 90 per cent of restaurants are said to fail.

“It’s quite a bold leap especially when none of my peers were doing anything of the sort and having no female role models to look up to the restaurant world. To have now gone on and won awards is incredible.”

Ironically, Tania grew up within a restaurant environment as her parents own an eating house in Hampshire – which unlike Chit Chaat Chai – sells traditional curries, tikkas and masalas. However, Tania said had her own ideas and never had any intention of taking over the family business.  

Ms Rahman added:

“It has been a dream of mine to start my own restaurant and do things differently to how my parents were doing it. I wanted to build something new, exciting and fresh for myself rather than taking over something from my family. Having a restaurant was always my goal but ever since I started the food stall, I knew I wanted to go bigger. I already have plans to open a second location and launch a cookbook as well!”

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