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02 September 2004
The Herald
Heat is on for curry empire chief after first loss;Ashoka owner optimistic

HARLEQUIN Leisure, the Indian cuisine and property empire owned by Charan Gill, dipped into the red by 20,000 last year after investing heavily in its new Curry Karaoke Club venture and the Ashoka Shak brand.

However, Punjab-born Mr Gill, who came to Scotland aged nine and once worked as a lathe-turner at Yarrows shipyard in Scotstoun, yesterday insisted the spice had not gone out of his business.

'Despite the loss, it was a very good year for us and we're confident we'll return to profitability in the current financial year,' said the millionaire.

Earlier this year, he won the entrepreneur of the year honour at the prestigious Asian Business Awards in London.

The group's turnover climbed to 3.7m for the year to the end of October 2003, compared with 2.9m for the previous year.

However, the company's accounts show that Harlequin Leisure recorded a 20,015 pre-tax loss for the 12-month period, compared with a pre-tax profit of 399,959 last time.

Moreover, had it not been for the sale of Mr Singh's India Restaurant, in Elderslie Street, Glasgow - itemised in the accounts as a 196,392 profit on the disposal of fixed assets - the loss would have been considerably greater.

Mr Gill said: 'Mr Singh's India simply didn't fit with us any more. But the Curry Karaoke Club made a profit in its first year and we're extremely pleased about that, and we also invested about 1.4m in the shaks business.

'The main thing for us now is to build up the Ashoka Shak brand. We've got four shaks now and, by the end of this year, we'll be opening another one.

He declined to say how many more Ashoka Shaks he planned over the next few years.

He added: 'It's too early to say. But the more we have, the more the brand is recognised.'

Mr Gill, who was recently appointed vice-chairman of the Glasgow Restaurateurs' Association, launched the Ashoka Shak brand in 2002 to provide quality Indian cuisine in out-of-town retail and leisure parks. In April last year, he created a stir by opening Scotland's first Curry Karaoke Club.

Mr Gill, who now employs about 450 staff, founded the Ashoka chain in 1984.

With 17 outlets throughout the central belt of Scotland, Harlequin is now the largest Indian restaurant group in the UK.

The group's property division - which Mr Gill said was designed 'only to wash its face at the moment'' - was continuing to pick up tenement properties in the west end of Glasgow, none of which Gill said he planned to sell before 2009.

He added: 'It's the same with the call centre. Although it did make a small profit last year, it was also designed to wash its face, to simply break even, and service the Askoka Shak business.

'We're also pleased that the property value of some of our older restaurants has gone up considerably. We've had some of these restaurants in Glasgow for 25 years, which are increasing in a value all the time.

'All around, I can tell you this is a healthy growing business.'

MARK SMITH



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