A Syrian restaurant owner is looking to add to the nightlife offer in Huddersfield after opening a shisha lounge.
Ghassan Bateha has spent the past three years coming up with plans that would conform to council planning regulations for the shisha lounge above his restaurant called Ugarit.
The lounge, which has two open walls, has helped increase business at the restaurant by 20 per cent since it was launched last month.
Mr Bateha told The Yorkshire Post: “The important thing in business is that you have to be patient and you have to have a clear idea about what you want to achieve.
“When I first opened I had plans to have a shisha place but I knew from day one it was going to be difficult.”
Getting permission from the council was a “long process”, Mr Bateha, who is originally from Syria, said.
“We’ve been working with the council for a long time,” he added. “Thankfully, they helped me to achieve what I have now. They were very helpful.”
While Mr Bateha concedes that shisha smoking isn’t healthy, he says that the lounge is for more than just smokers.
He said: “Not everybody comes here to smoke. Some people come with their friends, just to sit down, to watch TV and listen to music.”
Mr Bateha launched Ugarit in August 2016 with a view to sharing his country’s culture and history with people. The restaurant is named after an ancient port city in Northern Syria.
The opening of the lounge will initially create four new jobs, the restaurant downstairs has seven employees.
“When we get busier we’re going to have more staff for upstairs,” Mr Bateha added.
Ugarit is aiming for a slice of the night time economy with the lounge, which remains open until 2am. The restaurant downstairs shuts at 11pm.
Mr Bateha said: “After six o’clock everything is closed and we’re trying to give another option to people. You have a lot of bars and clubs around Huddersfield but there’s no option to sit down and relax in a nice atmosphere.”
The past time of shisha is embedded in Syrian culture, according to the owner of Ugarit.
Mr Bateha said: “Here you have coffee shops like Costa and Starbucks. People go there to have coffee. In our country the coffeeshops have shisha. Anyone who goes there, they go to relax.”
While Mr Bateha moved to the UK in 2008, his family is still back in Daraa, which is in the south of Syria.
Mr Bateha wishes that he could bring his parents over to the UK but they refuse to do so as they don’t want to leave behind their land. The security situation has improved recently says Mr Bateha, who keeps in touch with his parents, but life is still tough in the conflict ravaged country.
He said: “You can say it’s safer but life is still difficult. Everything is expensive. You cannot get a lot of stuff.”
Even if he did convince his parents to come over for just a visit, it would be difficult for them to leave the country.
A positive side effect of the troubles in Syria is that the profile of the country’s culture and cuisine has been raised.
“After what has happened, the profile of Syria as a country has grown internationally,” Mr Bateha said. “People started to learn about Syrians, to learn about the culture, even about the food.” He added: “Sometimes it makes you feel very sad because we don’t need to be well-known for a war.
“We can be well-known for our culture, our country and our talented people. It doesn’t need a big thing like a war to be famous or well-known.”
Similarities to Lebanese food
While Ghassan Bateha is keen to share his country’s cuisine with people, he admits that there are a lot of similarities between Syrian and Lebanese cooking.
He said: “It’s the same but there are some little details that are different. We have the same cuisine and even a lot of families are related to each other.”
One of the most popular dishes at Ugarit is Kabseh lamb. “It’s slow cooked meat on the bones,” Mr Bateha said.
Generally the restaurant’s meat dishes, which are grilled on charcoal, tend to be popular, Mr Bateha added, but there was also a growing demand from vegan and vegetarian customers.