Address: 23/29 Walker St, Dandenong VIC 3175
Phone: (03) 9793 9981
From an interview with Rahimi that has been edited.
I migrated to Australia from Afghanistan in 1991, about 27 years ago.
When I came to Melbourne, I was a father of five kids and it was really hard to survive with a little bit of money. Cooking was always my hobby so after a while I thought, “lets do something that will introduce traditional Afghan food to the wider Australian community.”
For some reason Dandenong was in a very bad position from a business perspective and – on the big street where I opened, Thomas St – only seven or eight of the 150 shops were open. I opened this restaurant in what felt like a graveyard.
“Rahimi, the food business is very challenging, very hard and you can see that too many shops have closed in Dandenong,” a friend said to me.
“How are you going to do it?”
“Strong commitment and strong decisions will help me succeed in life,” I replied.
I discussed it with my family and they agreed.
Within 6-7 months I received good support from the community.
But after a few years the area was targeted for redevelopment, the original shop was demolished and we moved across the road. After a few years the second shop had to be demolished for similar reasons. So we moved to Lonsdale St and started Pamir Restaurant.
I had some family issues so I sold the business to one of the staff members. But the chef – whom I had worked with for over a decade – came to me and said, “lets work on something again.”
“No,” I replied.
“I’m too tired and I’m getting old.”
But he convinced me, we took out a loan, found a place and started from scratch again. We have mostly new customers now, and it is honestly a good business.
It’s not only eating, but high quality service, a welcoming atmosphere, love, trust with the customers and hard work.
These are the things that help you succeed.
Afghan food is fresh food.
A lot of it is skewers & meatballs which go on the charcoal straight away, and rice which is served fresh all the time.
The other point is that we serve food in a traditional way. Afghan food is very mild and not full of herbs and spices like other Asian food.
It mainly has lots of fresh ingredients. Tomato, onion, coriander, capsicum, ginger & garlic are used constantly. I also try to make the food as light as I can with little to no grease, oil and animal fat.
And coffee isn’t really a big part of the culture. Green tea is very famous in Afghanistan. We serve it with a touch of cardamom, as well as organic saffron.
What we do back in Afghanistan, we make it in exactly the same way here.
From day one until now, every dish goes under my supervision.
I still enjoy the work as a kitchen man and I don’t rely on delivery.
I go shop by shop and pick my own meat and veggies. I trust my suppliers but I have to pick the freshest things with my own eyes. If you are buying the right products, it gives you the right result as well.
We’ve moved four times and some customers have followed me, but I am constantly faced with new customers. Word of mouth. One customer brings their friends, another brings their friends, another brings their friends. In the 17 years that I’ve worked in the food business, I’ve never had an issue.
And this is a BYO restaurant. Some people don’t like it, but alcohol is part of the culture of this country. It’s an Australian Afghan restaurant, so I allow customers to bring in whatever their favourite drink is.
Beer, wine, it’s their choice.
Wherever you go and wherever you live integration is important.
Dandenong is a good place, a multicultural place.
52 per cent of the residents are from a multicultural background, so it is full of different communities and different ethnicities.
It is also a central point which connects people from the east, south and west of Melbourne.
I think Dandenong is currently in a peak position, especially compared to 15 years ago.
It is a very safe place, as safe as the City of Melbourne.
After opening the restaurant in 2001 about 20-25 Afghan shops have subsequently opened in Dandenong.
Now the area in and around Thomas St is known as the Afghan Bazaar.
There’s groceries, takeaway joints, restaurants and quite a few bakeries that supply Afghan bread to the supermarket.
They’re all running the business in a happy way and – the more the culture is introduced to Victoria – the more customers will come.
I’m proud to see that the Afghan community is doing really well.
I’m getting old, but I still have the energy to run this business.
As long as I’m alive, feeling healthy and I have the patience I will be working in the food business.
It’s my passion, and I love it.
I’m meeting a lot of new people and my customers have become like my family.
Written by Aron Lewin & all photos and audio by Gabriella Joustra