One of the many gems in Sunderland’s hospitality crown, Spice Empire on Church Street is one of the city’s most-loved spots when it comes to diving into authentic Indian cuisine as a vibrant atmosphere oozes around the restaurant – a type of place where minimum fuss is made and maximum effect is enjoyed.
Johnathan Ramsay chats to Imad Rahman of Spice Empire as he reveals all about a transformational year for this local business…
An iconic Sunderland restaurant…
From the outside, Spice Empire is a quaint, understated building that you could easily mistake for a cosy old pub.
However, a quick glance inside reveals a modern, hidden gem of an Indian restaurant nestled among some of the city’s historic buildings.
Recently passed down from one generation to the next, Spice Empire is owned by Rafi Hussain and managed by Imad Rahman.
Rafi’s first order of business when he took over in 2018 was to update the restaurant’s interior; bringing it into the modern age whilst maintaining that original charm that so many love.
It’s that duality of tradition and modernity that really defines this latest incarnation of a beloved SR1 Indian restaurant.
Delivering a forward-thinking Spice Empire…
One of Spice Empire’s biggest personalities, Imad only joined Spice Empire at the start of the year and he’s overseen one of the toughest and most transformative years for the restaurant to-date.
Imad describes the former state of Spice Empire during a sensational mealtime:
“Before the transformation, the carpets were different, there was a stage area and it was really like an old-fashioned, typical Indian restaurant”.
“With the new design, Rafi wanted it to be more modern and attract a younger audience, as well as retain that authentic feel for the older generations.”
Imad was born into the food industry, grafting away in his dad’s takeaway when he was just 11.
He was instantly captivated by the fast pace of it all and knew he was going to be working within the food sector for the rest of his life.
“My dad taught me the tricks of the trade really.”
“After 5 years working with my dad, my uncle then took me under his wing working at his restaurant. Takeaways are a completely different ball game from restaurants.
I like socialising and talking with people, but with takeaways you can’t really do that. So, I knew I wanted to get into the restaurant business.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a lot of blood, sweat and tears that you’ve got to put in. But that’s what I love about it.”
Backed by the local community…
There’s certainly been some blood, sweat and tears during this past year for the entire restaurant industry. Lockdowns have had a huge impact on businesses and left an air of uncertainty in their wake.
For Imad, it’s been the support from the people of Sunderland that’s gotten him and Spice Empire through these tough times.
“We’re so grateful for the local community supporting us and if it wasn’t for them, it would have been really tough over the past year.”
“It just goes to show how Sunderland people come together in a time of need. We’ve seen everyone back, all the old faces, new faces as well. That’s what kept us going.”
A born and bred Mackem, the support of the city has filled Imad with an incredible sense of pride about where he comes from.
“We’re such a tight community. I don’t think we’ll get that anywhere else” Imad proudly announces.
“I don’t think I’ll ever move out of Sunderland. In terms of the business, I know if I ever run out of anything here I can just go next door and ask – they’d happily give it and help me out. I don’t think you’d ever get that anywhere else.”
For more information, visit facebook.com/spiceempiresunderland