Influencers and politicians like Dave Sharma and Allegra Spender are fighting to restore this iconic kebab shop’s trading hours but its owner says time is running out.
While Paddington’s central road of Oxford St is known for its upscale boutiques, luxury wares and up-market prices, Indian Home Diner is a bastion of accessibility.
Founded by Bengali-Australian, Robert Chowdry, his specialty is the revered Indian kebab. The soft but slightly chewy naan envelops a flavourful chicken tikka. Veggie options are available but both options are lashed with a curry of the customer’s choosing and finished with cheese, a crunchy onion bhaji and/or aloo chop, that’s like a spiced potato fritter but better.
It’s customers include uni students, taxi drivers, shift workers and the foot sore and weary revellers that are drip fed from the main road after a night spent drinking, dancing and other feats.
For some it is a location – mainly for a greasy (very) early morning nightcap – while others see it as a comforting pit stop between venues, working stints or pay cycles.
However, the future of Indian Home Diner is in jeopardy.
Two months ago, Mr Chowdry’s was refused a DA application that would allow it to continue trading until 3am, forcing him to close at midnight. Should he not abide by the rules, Mr Chowdry would face a $6000 fine for every night the shop is open past midnight.
Previously, Mr Chowdry began receiving noise complaints from a nearby Oxford St resident, which escalated with threats the individual would “close (his) shop”.
It’s not known if the threat is related to the DA application refusal.
Woollahra Municipal Council told news.com.au that the 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 lodged in November 2021 was refused by Council in March because of a failure to “demonstrate satisfactory crowd management” they said. However Mr Chowdry intends to appeal this decision, which would be considered by Council.
“In April 2021 Council was made aware that the Diner was continuing to trade until 3am, beyond the expiration of the trial period,” the statement said. “We have since been in ongoing contact with the owner, and advised that a new DA and improved compliance with crowd guidelines would be required to permanently extend operating hours.”
Having operated by the new opening hours since last Friday, the six-hour reduction has cost Mr Chowdry an estimated $4000 to $5000 in sales.
It’s enough the threaten the shop’s viability.
“I feel hopeless and I need people’s help. I need to open my shop until 3am and if people help me, I might be able to reopen again,” he said.
“If they don’t give me permission to open my store than maybe I’ll have to close my shop.”
Mr Chowdury’s cry for help was heard by Wentworth’s battling MP’s 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 directing people to sign the petition to restore the kebab store’s operating hours.
“Business was hit hard enough during Covid and even though I haven’t been to The Unicorn (a local pub near the store) for a while even I know Indian Home Diner is a national treasure. Let’s save it,” Ms Spender responded.
Josh Stewart, the owner of the popular Sydney Instagram account, Bondi Lines has also championed a petition and fundraiser. The Paddington local and creator behind the 48,000-strong profile, Josh Stewart, 25, learnt about the diner’s struggles from staff at The Unicorn – a local pub and nightclub a few doors up.
“They called and said this is what’s happened. Robert is a legend. You can see him on the streets picking up rubbish at night and they’re still cutting his hours,” Mr Stewart told news.com.au. “It’s a travesty. What can you do.”
His plan is to get 10,000 signatures and take the petition to the next council meeting. It’s a target that appears doable. In under 24 hours the Change.org petition has amassed nearly 2500 signatures and it’s gaining momentum.
A Paddington local, Mr Stewart says Indian Home Diner is as beloved for the community it’s created and the delicious food.
His plan is to take the petition to next week’s council meeting where he hopes the community support will change the council’s decision.
“Average punters have gotten around it. The response seems to be really emotional but then again, it’s even resonated with counsellors and politicians too,” Mr Stewart told news.com.au.
Mr Chowdry doesn’t take the support from the community lightly, especially his devoted younger clientele that have come to his store since it opened in 2009.
“All the young people and uni students, they helped me. They came to me and said: ‘we’re young people and students and we have no money but your kebab is $5. They were like my son, who was 20 at the time,” he remembers.
“I made a promise to keep the kebabs priced at $5 for one to two years and I still have a student special.”
To this day Mr Chowdury has maintained a Student Kebab special. While inflation can be blamed for the $2 price rise, students and staff from UNSW’s Fine Arts and the Notre Dame College can buy a chicken tikka naan and allo chop or onion bhaji kebab for $7.
For everyone else, Mr Chowdury’s generous naan-wrapped delights range from $8.90 to $14 for the Garlic Jumbo Cheese Kebab – a monster offering that comes with a curry sauce, two chicken tikkas and a choice between a alo chop or onion bhaji.
“I love the young kids that come to my store. They’ve made my store popular and they do the best marketing for me,” he said.