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“The restaurant business is getting very slow,” says Asad Sheikh. “Sales are down in every restaurant I know.”
The longtime restaurant owner in Northern Virginia sold the last of his restaurants this summer, including London Curry House (Alexandria) and 1947 Indian Restaurant (Sterling), with his original Curry Mantra (Fairfax) sold in 2016.
1947, which landed on this year’s 50 Best Restaurants list, is under new ownership but has the same menu (save for a dozen new items) and the same kitchen staff. The new name, unveiled last week, is Tamarind Indian Cuisine. Shruthi Reddy and Venkat Aella are first-time restaurant owners, and Aella managed restaurants previously in Texas.
As for Sheikh, he’s not leaving the hospitality business. This month he’ll open his first D.C. restaurant, Bombay Street Food, in the Columbia Heights neighborhood.
He points to the surge in third-party takeout companies and trouble securing visas for chefs from India under the Trump administration as reasons why his Northern Virginia restaurants were suffering.
“The ordering business is going up and restaurant business is going down,” says Sheikh. Services like Uber Eats and Grubhub can take anywhere from a 15- to 30-percent cut. “It’s really hard for fine dining to survive,” with those kinds of numbers, says Sheikh.
As for kitchen talent, staffing all of his restaurants “became complicated when Trump came into office,” he says, and he couldn’t import chefs. A New York Times article from September pointed out, “the government is denying more work visas, asking applicants to provide additional information and delaying approvals more frequently.” And the non-partisan National Foundation for American Policy cites a 41 percent decrease in H1-B visas for the last three months of fiscal year 2017.
Though sad about leaving Virginia—“Those were my babies,” says Sheikh—he’s excited for his move into the city. “D.C. is happening.”