'Bhaji's will never die' - popular Kelham Island restaurant bids farewell ahead of closure

The owners of the popular Bhaji Shop, Thali Cafe at Kelham Island tell us why they've decided to close, and what's next for them.

Tuesday, 22nd May 2018, 12:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd May 2018, 1:16 pm
Matt and Melissa Holdsworth, owners of the Bhaji Shop, Thali Cafe at Kelham Island

For just over two years, the Bhaji Shop, Thali Cafe has been a staple for many curry lovers in Sheffield.

However the shop, based at Kelham Island, is set to close at the end of the month much to the dismay of people on Facebook.

The Bhaji Shop, Thali Cafe will close at the end of the month

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Run by brother-and-sister duo Melissa and Matt Holdsworth from Meersbrook, the business has gone from strength to strength over the years, and that's one of the reasons for it's closure.

As Matt said: "Everyone always asks us why we're closing, and it's funny really, we just wanted to finish on a high."

The Bhaji Shop, Thali Cafe first started life as a daytime bistro on Chesterfield Road just over four years ago, before expanding to a bigger premises at Kelham Island and becoming the thriving restaurant it is today.

It is very much a family affair, as Melissa and Matthew's mother Pat has always been on hand to make cakes, keep relations high and mother the staff, some of whom have been with the business ever since it opened.

The Thali Truck on tour

And these are fond memories that the owners will treasure, as Matthew reminisced of the early days: "I remember being in the kitchen, and the first nights we ended up finishing at like three in the morning. We just didn't know what hit us, the clean downs were crazy. I remember Joe, who is one of our main chefs, at 2 in the morning and he was super stressed.

"He just said 'is this what it's going to be like?' I was like, 'It'll be alright Joe, we'll get their honestly.' That was the first summer. He stuck with it, he's one of our longest serving members of staff."

"It's always been nice to work together with Melissa, at times it's been a bit tricky!" he added.

The restaurant has grown with Kelham Island, as new shops open such as The Grind Cafe and Jöro, Matthew says they've been able to hold their own within the food scene.

Staff members, John Mumba, Nicky Harris and Joe Mcdonald at the prep table

He said: "Over the past two years, I can't believe especially in summer, compared to the summer before or the one before that just how many people now come down here as a destination for a night out.

"Everywhere used to be full on Fridays and Saturdays, but you never saw any people. They'd arrive in taxis and then disappear in taxis. And now you just have big groups of people just wandering around.

"It's become a big eating area, everywhere is pretty much a bar or a restaurant which I think is really nice. We've grown with the area, it's been a pleasure to grow with the area."

The owners have really put their heart and soul into the restaurant to make it what it is today, but that is something they feel they just can't give anymore.

Matt said: "Loads and loads of jobs, but particularly hospitality, restaurants and anything that's evening work, it wants your heart and soul and I feel like up until maybe six months ago, I wanted and could give it everything that I've got and absolutely loved it.

"I think in the past six months, we've both had this conversation and both of us have questioned how much more heart and soul we can give it."

"We didn't want it to go any bigger, we didn't want to make it into a chain. All good restaurants are best when their owners are working within"

Melissa agreed: "I think we've taken it as far as we can, or as we'd want to. Franchising was never an option for us to do that. We're nowhere near as organised enough for that"

But what is next for the duo?

"I'm looking forward to cooking a lentil dhal at home!" Melissa said.

"I used to love cooking that and because I always have it here most days really for breakfast I never cook it anymore. Little simple things like that will be great."

They are still going to take the business with them, as the Thali Food truck will be on hand to cater for weddings, and pop ups.

Matt added: "I guess it might be nice to think that at some point it'd be nice to think it could pop up again at some point, I know we've both got loads of other ideas that we want to start looking into."

For Melissa, the brains behind the quirky and colourful restaurant interior, her dreams lie in design: "One of the really nice things I've enjoyed about doing this place is the interior side of it and the design aspect and making it look funky and colourful and we've done that with our other establishments. It would be nice if I could get involved with that work if possible.

As for the comments on Facebook, Matt said they left him with Anxiety, with Melissa adding: "I couldn't believe it, how many we got. It makes you feel guilty that you're taking something away from people that love it."

Matt said: "It was quite dramatic. It would be easy to carry on for another five years, and do the same thing but I think that to me, I always feel like something has a peak and I would much prefer to finish on a high, and go out when to the majority of the people it's well received."

For now, you can book with the restaurant until their closing date on the May 26, or catch them at the Sheffield Food Festival that will run from May 26 to 28.

Matt said: "There's so many different restaurant styles out there, and I feel like this bit has been our bit. Maybe the next bit is somebody else's time to shine."