A leisure quarter unit that’s stood empty for more than three years will today reopen as an Indian tapas and street food restaurant.
The owners of Papadoms are so confident in their business they chose the Sunderland site, in the Limelight Complex in High Street West, to launch a national chain.
They spent four months transforming the former Ask and Mex Cantina restaurant, with the new venture opening for business from 11am today – serving brunch, lunch and evening meals until 11pm.
Around £150,000 has been ploughed into creating the retro Bollywood-themed restaurant, which is inspired by road side Indian diners called dhabbas.
After running a successful pilot Papadoms, near his home city of Glasgow, executive chef and owner Sanjeev Sanghara decided Sunderland would be the perfect place to launch an eventual chain.
The move has created 30 part-time jobs and Sanjeev says he’s been overwhelmed by support for the venture so far.
Sanjeev, whose family also owns two traditional Indian restaurants, in Scotland, said: “We launched the Papadoms pilot in Ayr to test new ideas on the market in an area where there’s a lot of competition from other Indian restaurants. We wanted to see if there was the potential for longevity, to grow as a business.
“It ended up being the No 1 restaurant on TripAdvisor for the whole time it was open. We developed a really good team, and the opportunity came to scale up and to come to Sunderland.
“It’s a great opportunity for us. This site appealed to me because it’s in a specifically-built leisure unit. Also the council here are similar to Glasgow in that they are trying to regenerate the area. It’s also a chance to bring a new style of cuisine to Sunderland.
“A lot of the Indian restaurants are Bangladeshi-style food, this is Punjabi-style. What people perceive to be Indian food isn’t that authentic, but this is diner and street food, it’s what people in India eat every day.
“In Glasgow we are well established, and I’m seen as a bit of a celebrity chef, but we didn’t know Sunderland before this. We’ve been here four months now and we have had so much support from local businesses, especially from Peter Darke at Darke Cycles.”
Sanjeev said much of the menu, which features handi and tiffin options, is inspired by a trip to India.
He said: “I remember trying the food at the dhabbas and thinking ‘this is spectacular, why can’t you get this in the UK?’”