Calgary’s South Asian restaurants hit by both COVID-19 restrictions and Ramadan losses

The holy month of Ramadan is usually a busy one for restaurants, especially those that cater to Calgary’s large South Asian community.

Thousands of Muslims all over the city are observing the Islamic holy month, which involves fasting, prayers and charity.

Every morning, Muslims start the day with a meal before dawn, called suhoor. Then, after sunset, they break their daily fast with an evening dinner, called iftar.

Iftar events often involve lavish buffets and big meals in restaurants with friends and family, but not this year.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, in-person dining isn’t allowed right now — leaving restaurants scrambling to meet a rush of takeout and delivery orders in a short time frame as the sun sets and Muslims get ready to eat before sleeping.

It makes a tough year even more challenging.

“It’s very much affecting the business overall,” said Khurram Akmal, manager of Fahad restaurant in northeast Calgary.

Restaurant owner Gul Khan says many restaurants with a large South Asian customer base are being hit with a double-whammy right now due to restrictions in place during their busiest time of year. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

“We always have iftar parties and a lot of buffets, but with the restrictions now, it’s all takeout and only for one time period. It’s late in the evening, and then all of a sudden all the traffic comes in for takeout,” he said.

Akmal says it makes things tough for the kitchen staff and involves waiting for a brief window in the day when meals are picked up or delivered.

“It’s very challenging to work in the kitchen and to maintain. And it affects the business a lot,” Akmal said.

“With Ramadan, it almost goes to no business for the whole day,” he said.

Akmal says restaurants still need to pay staff to be there, even with just a few customers trickling in during the day.

He’s hoping for a speedy vaccination rollout and a return to a bustling lunch run after Ramadan, which runs this year from April 13 to May 12 and ends with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr.

Other restaurants with a large South Asian customer base say they’re facing the same issues.

“Most of the restaurants are struggling big time,” said Gul Khan, owner of Kabob Fusion.

During the day, the Fahad restaurant in northeast Calgary isn’t seeing many customers right now, as its Muslim customers are fasting for Ramadan during the day. What are usually packed fast-breaking dinners in the evenings are reduced to takeout instead of big buffets and large family meals. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

“Ramadan is supposed to be one of the busiest months for us, but because of the restrictions, it’s just takeout and such a short period of time in the evening,” he said.

“During the daytime, it’s very quiet.”

Khan is offering a 20 per cent discount to customers and a Ramadan special to try to drum up business.

“We’re not really making any money off that, but it’s just to help people and bring people into the restaurant,” he said.

Khan says that with all of the different delivery options now available, it’s easy enough to order, but it’s difficult for restaurants to manage the iftar rush in a one-hour window, especially dealing with fresh food made to order.

“We hope after Ramadan things will be better, maybe COVID will go down and they may relax some of the restrictions on the industry,” he said.

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