Special Feature

Restaurants in Gulshan left reeling from terror

27 Jul,2016


Special Report:

Masud Rahman, 24, wanted to visit a posh eatery in Gulshan 2 after a long day in office. After calling a few friends to meet up, he underwent security checks at several points after crossing Kemal Ataturk Avenue, all for an evening of eating out, he thought.

But all his hopes of good food dissipated when he found the main entry gate of the restaurant closed, with a notice hanging on it, citing that the ‘restaurant will be closed till further notice’.

The restaurant is not the only one to be affected by the recent terror attacks, but businesses in most of the restaurants and cafes in Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara (more popularly known as Dhaka’s very own tri-state area) remains crippled thanks to the July 1 attacks at Holey Artisan Bakery at Gulshan 2’s road 79, which left over 27 casualties, most of them foreigners.

The fear of being attacked while eating out has gripped Dhakaites like never before. Nasrin Sultana, a housewife and a mother of two, told UNB that previously she used to call on her adolescent children whenever they went out to eat with their friends, but now they have placed a restriction on it as well – only in Dhanmondi, near their home and they cannot even consider any café in the capital’s so-called “tri-state” area (as Gulshan, Baridhara and Banani are called at times).

“The attack in Holey Artisan was horrific,” she remarked after citing footage shown on television. “Our family went to have breakfast over there last month. It was a lovely place with a nice lake view. I do not want to turn on the TV tomorrow and watch my children turn hostages at some other café, the risk is too high.”

Ashiqur Rahman Rean, founder of Dhaka Foodies, says “This ordeal is badly affecting the restaurant industry. It has compelled families from eating out in those areas, not to mention the excessive checkpoints and rigorous inspections in the name of security by law enforcement personnel. They have made it difficult to even enter those areas without any cause.”

He observed that the sale in restaurants is being affected, with revenue spiraling down by 60 to even 70 percent in those areas. And security is not restricted only to public areas, but most of the restaurants in those areas have installed metal detectors and close-circuit cameras, as well as recruiting additional security guards.

All these are adding up to prevailing bank loans and other expenditures to run a restaurant.

Owners’ dilemmas

Ashfaq Rahman Asif, founder and managing director of Tarka, Banani’s top-rated Indian restaurant, is one of the victims of such government crackdowns.

“We have already read the list of establishments which RAJUK has deemed to be ‘inappropriately-located’, while some have been labeled as outright illegal establishments,” he said. “People are perceiving all of us to be illegal as well, hence they have stopped visiting most of the restaurants.”

Ashfaq warns mass unemployment figures if the RAJUK eviction drive commences soon. Shifting to any other commercial area would be difficult for most, as the transition costs would be sky-high and not affordable for most.

As a restaurant owner, he is part of the Federation of Hotel, Guesthouse and Restaurant Owners Association (FHGROAB), an organisation recently presenting their pleas to the government to reconsider the eviction drive.

In a written speech, the associations’ adviser MH Rahman warned that eviction of hotels and restaurants from the posh areas will have negative impact on development of the tourism industry.

“At least 3000 foreign guests stay at these hotels and guest houses every night. The establishments contribute to the government with foreign currency, value added tax (VAT) and also with other taxes,” Rahman said.

Upon investigating in Gulshan 2, UNB found that restaurants such as Gloria Jean’s Coffees Bangladesh and Sura-On have already closed down without prior notice, with some other prominent restaurants, those popular with the expatriate community, planning to close their operations soon.

They refused to divulge their names, mentioning that the public will automatically be notified when they will come and ‘find our shutters down’.

RAJUK’s eviction drive is jointly in association with the Ministry of Housing and Public Works, who, on behalf of the government, had previously decided at a cabinet meeting in April to remove such commercial entities from residential areas in April, giving the owners six months’ advance notice.

According to FHGROAB president Md Shah Alam, they had invested Tk 200 crore on 28 tourism facilities only in Gulshan area alone, out of which Tk 60 crore was taken from banks as loans to develop the sector.

Giving them marching orders would be foolish, he added, as most foreigners prefer to stay in the tri-state area as most of the embassies are located in those areas.

The eviction drive had already begun on Monday in Uttara, where RAJUK officials evicted Platinum Residence in sector 4, which they stated did not obtain the necessary licenses from the relevant ministries to commence operations.

“The police has no role to play in these eviction drives other than providing security to the government officials,” said Masudur Rahman, deputy commissioner (media) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police. “RAJUK and the ministry of housing is in charge of the drives.”

Any future?

“Operating in Gulshan 1 has become very difficult,” said Matin, an entrepreneur who used to sell variety of cold coffees in a van near the Robi head office. “The police have pushed us as far as Gulshan South Avenue. There is no point in doing business there as not many offices are over there, compared to the Gulshan-1 intersection.”

But Matin expects things to return to normal after a few months, when the security crackdown will lighten, provided no new attacks take place. “I’ve been in this business for five years now,’ he said. “It always comes back to normal, it has to. Otherwise doing business in this country will become difficult.”

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