Pakistani entrepreneur turns UK's iconic red phone box into takeaway restaurant

Restauranteur wants to promote Pakistani traditions to bring back golden sparrow image of Pakistan

Hamza Azhar Salam
Murtaza Ali Shah
Tayyab Shafiq says he is going to add a lot of Pakistani colour to the booths such as truck art to make it more 'Pakistani-like'. Photo: Reporter

LONDON: A Pakistani entrepreneur has launched the smallest takeaway serving delicious Pakistani food in three used London phone booths with plans to open new franchises across the United Kingdom.

Tayyab Shafiq, 25, rented the booths from the Red Kiosk Company which reuses old phone booths. Originally from Lahore, Tayyab Shafiq came to London to study at the University College London (UCL) four years ago. He is a qualified mechanical engineer.

"As a young Pakistan Entrepreneur initiating my businesses in the UK, it saddened me that people relate to desi food with Indian cuisine, I want people here to relate to the Pakistani cuisine as much as they do with Indian food" said Tayyab in an exclusive interview with Geo. 

Tayyab says he wants promote Pakistani traditions and bring back the golden sparrow image of Pakistan in the most iconic manner.

Located just outside the Uxbridge Station on High Street; Tayyab Shafiq has been happily posing for pictures for the English press. His business venture of aromatic biryanis has been covered in several British papers.

Also read: Pakistani students in UK worried about mental health amid COVID-19 pandemic

Tayyab said that he started this unique and innovative venture to give another life to the red telephone booths. He added that he wanted to cater to the Pakistani and desi food market in his new venture. 

"As there are so many Pakistanis in the UK, so I had a vision to do businesses which represents Pakistani culture in the UK and to play my role in strengthening the bond between Pakistan and the UK especially after Brexit when the UK is looking for new business partners. It is a prime opportunity to re-establish the holdings in the UK," Tayyab told Geo.

He said his "smallest takeaway in the world" serves chicken and lamb biryani, dal chawal, samosas, drinks and various other snacks.

He gets the food delivered to the booth twice a day and uses electric food warmers to keep the food hot and fresh. The three phone booths are secured by a password protected punching pad and Tayyab plans to install security alarms as well.

Asian and Pakistani food in particular has become increasingly popular in the UK with the "Chicken Tikka Masala", an anglicized version of the Chicken Tikka, being named as Britain's dish of the year many times.

'Beauty of the restaurant'

There are millions of Pakistanis in the UK who also offer a huge market for desi cuisine.

Tayyab accepted that the place is too small and he struggles to fit himself in to fit as well. 

“That’s the beauty of this restaurant. There is no place to sit. You can only do takeaway and enjoy food in your own space and in your own area,” said the entrepreneur. 

Also read: Heroic APS survivor Ahmad Nawaz gets admitted to UK's University of Oxford

As soon as Tayyab opened the restaurant, it caught attention of a reporter who did a report on it and within hours several media men descended to the location for interviews. Tayyab is currently renovating the phone booths to completely comply with the local council’s regulations on food.

“In two weeks, I am going to completely change the décor and look of the phone booths from inside. To comply, I have to install washing basin and water supply. I am also going to add a lot of Pakistani colour to it such as truck art and other things making it more Pakistani-like,” said Tayyab.

Tayyab said his landlord was a good man who had given him three booths on a cheap rate. 

“I cannot disclose the deal between us but it’s very cheap. I have invested £800 to start the business.”

London’s iconic phone boxes became dysfunctional around five years ago after their utility came to an end. Previously, these booths were used to make telephone calls but then random people started using the space for marketing their products, relaxing on weekends after night outs and sometime for answering the call of nature. The Red Kiosk Company that owns these booths then locked up most of these booths decorated them in bright red to make them a tourist attraction.