When restaurateur Abdul Majeed moved to Burnley from Pakistan in 1979 not for one second did he think he would still be here 35 years later.
With the majority of his family back in his native country and nights spent upset over the way he was initially treated, he thought about returning home on more than one occasion.
But more than three decades on he is now the longest serving restaurateur in the region and will proudly call Burnley ‘home’ for the rest of his life.
“It makes me proud that I am the longest-serving restaurateur in the area. I will never leave Burnley now. I love the town, I love the people. They have been good to me and there is no place I would rather be.
“It was hard at the beginning especially in those times but I persevered and I’m still here now.”
Majeed was 21 years old when he came to the town, his first taste of running a restaurant coming with family venture Koh-I-Noor in Manchester Road. In 1987 he spotted a car showroom in Church Street and decided to open a larger restaurant, Shalamar. Twenty years on he modernised the building and rebranded it Aroma.
“Every time I have moved or improved my restaurant it is so I have something better to offer the people of Burnley. That has kept me going all these years. I have had tremendous support from the people of Burnley. I am really thankful that they have given me a lot of love.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of competition over the years but I am still here and I am not going anywhere. Not until my health says otherwise. I belong to Burnley, it is my town. Burnley has given me everything and I treasure that.”
That feeling is reciprocated with a loyal customer base built up over the years, customers who even refer to him now as ‘Mark’.
“A guy came into Koh-I-Noor when I first started there and asked me my name,” he smiles. “When I said ‘Abdul Majeed’ he said ‘no, that’s too difficult, I’m going to call you Mark’. It’s stuck ever since.
“We’re still doing very well. It’s not your typical town centre restaurant.
“It could be found in a city and I think people appreciate that. It’s about good food, good service, good atmosphere. I’m here every day. I’m still enjoying it. It’s my passion, not just my living.
“When people talk about a local restaurant they talk about Koh-I-Noor, Shalamar, Aroma. When they talk about a local restaurateur they talk about me. I am so proud of this. I love having that direct touch with the public. I’m serving three generations now – children, parents, grandparents.
“Sometimes all three generations are here at the same time. They have my curry running in their blood.”
Aroma was one of the first restaurants in Lancashire to win the county’s highest health award, the Recipe 4 Health certificate.
The restaurant has won numerous other awards over the years, not just for its cleanliness but for its authentic Asian cuisine.
Majeed puts it all down to hard work.
“We pride ourselves on high standards.
“I pride myself on high standards.
“You have to work hard and show courage if you want to achieve anything.
“It was a bumpy ride at first, a different culture. It was rough and at times it was very upsetting.
“But at the same time I had families coming into the restaurant and they made me feel part of their family. That’s kept me here and I could not be happier.”