Influencers and politicians like Dave Sharma and Allegra Spender are fighting to restore opening hours for this iconic kebab shop, but its owner says time is running out.
While central Oxford St in Paddington is known for its high-end shopping, luxury goods and high-end prices, Indian Home Diner is a bastion of accessibility.
Founded by a Bengali-Australian, Robert Chowdry, its specialty is the revered Indian kebab. Soft but slightly chewy naan wraps around a flavorful chicken tikka. Vegetarian options are available, but both options come with a curry of the customer’s choice and finished with cheese, crunchy onion bhaji and/or aloo cutlet, it’s like an apple fritter spicy earth but better.
Its customers include university students, taxi drivers, shift workers and sore, tired revelers who are drip-fed from the main road after a night of drinking, dancing and other exploits.
For some it’s a place – primarily for a (very) early morning greasy nightcap – while others see it as a comforting pit stop between sites, work periods or payment cycles.
However, Indian Home Diner’s future is in jeopardy.
Two months ago, Mr Chowdry was denied a request from AD that would allow him to continue trading until 3am, forcing him to close at midnight. If he breaks the rules, Mr. Chowdry faces a fine of $6,000 for each night the store is open after midnight.
Earlier, Mr Chowdry began receiving noise complaints from a nearby resident of Oxford St, which escalated with threats that the individual would ‘close (his) shop’.
It is not known whether the threat is related to the refusal of the AD request.
Woollahra Town Council told news.com.au Indian Home Dinner was granted an extension to trade until 3am on Friday and Saturday nights on a 12-month trial basis in March 2020.
A new DA filed in November 2021 was refused by Council in March due to a failure to “demonstrate satisfactory crowd management”, they said. However, Mr. Chowdry intends to appeal this decision, which will be reviewed by the Council.
“In April 2021, the Board was advised that the Diner was continuing to operate until 3 a.m., beyond the expiration of the trial period,” the statement read. “We have since been in constant contact with the owner and advised that a new DA and better compliance with crowd guidelines would be required to permanently extend hours of operation.”
Having operated under the new hours since last Friday, the six-hour cut cost Mr. Chowdry about $4,000 to $5,000 in sales.
That’s enough to threaten the viability of the store.
“I feel hopeless and I need people’s help. I have to open my store until 3 a.m. and if people help me, maybe I can reopen again,” he said.
“If they don’t give me permission to open my store, I may have to close my store.”
Mr Chowdury’s plea for help was heard by Wentworth MP Dave Sharma and independent hopeful Allegra Spender.
“This is a tragedy. I will fight to restore IHD hours! Mr. Sharma wrote on an Instagram post asking people to sign the petition to restore the kebab shop’s opening hours.
“Business has been pretty badly hit during Covid and although I haven’t been to The Unicorn (a local pub near the store) for some time, even I know Indian Home Diner is a national treasure. Let’s save him,” Ms Spender replied.
Josh Stewart, owner of Sydney’s popular Bondi Lines Instagram account, has also championed a petition and fundraiser. Paddington local and creator behind the 48,000-person profile, Josh Stewart, 25, learned of the restaurant’s struggles from staff at The Unicorn – a local pub and nightclub a few doors down.
“They called and said that’s what happened. Robert is a legend. You can see him on the streets picking up rubbish at night and they are always cutting his hours,” Mr Stewart told news.com.au. “It’s a parody. What can you do.”
His plan is to get 10,000 signatures and present the petition at the next council meeting. It’s a goal that seems doable. In less than 24 hours, the Change.org petition has garnered nearly 2,500 signatures and it’s growing.
Paddington resident Mr Stewart says Indian Home Diner is also loved for the community it has created and the delicious food.
His plan is to present the petition at next week’s council meeting where he hopes community support will change the council’s decision.
“Average bettors got around that. The response seems to be really emotional, but again it even resonated with councilors and politicians,” Mr Stewart told news.com.au.
Mr. Chowdry does not take community support lightly, especially his dedicated young clientele who have been frequenting his store since it opened in 2009.
“All the young people and students from the university, they helped me. They came to me and said: ‘we are young people and students and we have no money but your kebab costs $5. They were like my son, who was 20 at the time,” he recalls.
“I promised to keep the kebabs for $5 for one to two years and I still have a student special.”
To date, Mr. Chowdury has maintained a Student Kebab Special. While inflation can be blamed for the $2 price hike, Fine Arts students and staff at UNSW and Notre Dame College can purchase a chicken tikka naan and allo cutlet or bhaji kebab at the onion for $7.
For everyone else, Mr. Chowdury’s bountiful naan-wrapped delights range from $8.90 to $14 for the Garlic Jumbo Cheese Kebab – a monster deal that comes with curry sauce, two chicken tikkas and a choice between an alo cutlet or an onion bhaji.
“I love the young children who come to my store. They made my store popular and they do the best marketing for me,” he said.