In 2005, Raj founded the now UK-renowned fine dining restaurant, Itihaas. Located in Birmingham city centre, the venue has won numerous accolades, such as Best UK Restaurant and Best Newcomer.
A multi-million-pound business, Raj has created employment for 37 people and, through the catering arm of the company, holds the exclusive catering contracts for prestigious establishments such as Selfridges, Hilton Hotel Group and the Marriot Hotel Group. His experience of being a restaurant owner to that point was non-existent, but Raj believed that if he worked hard enough, anything could be possible.
Itihaas means ‘history’ and Raj was determined to create something special, memorable and original. The venue is modelled on an old Indian museum, with Raj travelling to Jaipur and Rajasthan to collect memorabilia and old artefacts to bring home with him to the UK. The theme of the restaurant is very much of the old days of the Raj, with different parts of the building reflecting different parts of India’s heritage. The customer feels ‘transported’ to another time, and in this way, Raj has created something utterly unique.
Although Itihaas is described as ‘fine dining’, the food is genuine and authentically Indian, as opposed to so many westernised versions of Indian food. Raj has created meaningful employment for 27 members of staff, and ten more through his Itihaas catering company which he established in mid-2005, just six months following the opening of Itihaas restaurant.
Just one year after opening Itihaas restaurant, Raj won Newcomer of the Year for ethnic food and drink at The Best in Britain Awards 2005, and in 2006, the restaurant was named Best Newcomer in West Midlands at the British Curry Awards; 2007 saw Itihaas named Best UK Restaurant (the first time in 14 years that the award had been given outside of London) and a further clutch of awards followed, such as Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year 2008 at the IAB Awards. He was also named one of the 30 brightest young entrepreneurs by Growing Business Magazine in 2007. Raj achieved this incredible success just one year after becoming a restauranteur for the first time, is extraordinary, and testament to his determination, talent and drive in creating something exceptional.
Raj’s recognition by the Queen at a Buckingham Palace garden party in May 2008 motivated him further. The reception was held in recognition of the valuable contribution made by leading industry players to the UK’s hospitality world and the industry’s close links with the royal household, with Raj invited for his part in the success of advancing the country’s then £3.2 billion Indian restaurant industry. Other celebrity guests included Sir Rocco Forte, Gordon Ramsay and Karan Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beers. Raj, who described his attendance as ‘a great honour’ was asked by the Queen, why his restaurant was so special.