Faithful Patrons Fear Loss of Favorite Indian Eatery

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August 27, 2020

By W.B. King–

Sometime in the coming month, Swagat Halal Indian Cuisine might be serving its last dishes. The building the restaurant currently operates in at 19 North Broadway in Tarrytown, which is also home to The Tapp, was purchased in late 2019 by Katonah Property Management Corporation, according to the company’s chairman, Bill Celaj.

“Mr. Kahn, the owner of Swagat, never opted to exercise his lease extension,” Celaj said, while adding that The Tapp will resume business operations when it’s safe to do so. “Mr. Kahn basically told us that business wasn’t going well.”

Over the last 10 years, Humayun Khan has owned the eatery, but the lease is due to expire on August 31. While he said that he would like to continue operating the business, and would sign a five-year lease, he feels the proposed increase in rent is not reasonable.

“I am a fair man, but he is asking too much—about $2,000 more than we are paying now—especially at this time of COVID-19 when all restaurants, including ours, have been hit hard,” said Kahn, who added that he has a cordial relationship with Celaj.

“I am willing to continue to pay the rent at the same price as I have for the last 10 years,” said Kahn. “Once the pandemic is over and business goes back to the normal rate, I would be agreeable to negotiate the rental price, but not now—it’s not fair or the right time.”

Celaj explained that he and his partners invested resources and hired a real estate appraiser who arrived at the rental price increase, which he called “fair market value.” He noted that his company owns other properties, including those with restaurants, primarily located in New York City.

Swagat’s Heart and Soul

Prior to the pandemic, patrons who frequented Swagat were most often greeted by Mohammed Abdul Baten, a slight man with an exuberant smile who had a tendency to call people “Boss” but did so in a welcoming, disarming manner that usually included handshakes and hugs.

Baten, the restaurant’s general manager, sadly lost his battle with the coronavirus on March 24, at the age of 63. He is survived by his wife, six daughters and their families.

“It broke my heart,” said Kahn. “He was my first cousin and we were only six months apart in age. He loved the restaurant and all the people who came in. I miss him so much.”

“Most people do not realize that he is gone,” said Baten’s son-in-law, MD Kamrujjaman who has worked at the restaurant and wishes to help Kahn keep it running. “We want to continue for Mohammed and our family. He loved this business more than anything.”

In 1994, Swagat began operating at 148 East 46th Street in Manhattan. Sixteen years later, a second location was opened in Tarrytown and soon became a popular restaurant for locals as well as folks coming into town for a show at the Tarrytown Music Hall or a well-deserved meal after an autumn hike.

Over the last 10 years, devoted patrons returned again and again for the casual atmosphere, tasty halal fare and the welcoming staff. Favorite dishes included lamb korma, keema dosa, tandoori chicken, onion biryani, paneer tiki masala, mango chutney, goan fishy curry and a plethora of naan bread choices, like coconut and garlic.

David Thomas, owner of Little B’s restaurant on Main Street in Tarrytown, was saddened by the news of Mohammed’s passing, saying he will “surely” be missed. And, he noted that he would be disappointed if Swagat went out of business.

“As a fellow restaurant owner in Tarrytown, their hospitality makes you feel comfortable and like you are family,” Thomas reflected. “Their cuisine is always fresh and exciting to enjoy,” added Thomas, who said he has eaten many wonderful meals at Swagat over the years.

Difficult to Say Goodbye

When asked if another eatery will be assuming the space currently occupied by Swagat (should a deal not be made with Kahn), Celaj said he is presently negotiating terms with a potential lessor. “We have made arrangements to rent the space to someone else, and more than likely, yes, it will be a restaurant, but I can’t say anything conclusively,” Celaj said. “They will have to do renovations, because I’m sure they will want to change it from being an Indian restaurant and have to apply for a liquor license, so it will be a few months, at least, before a new business is operational.”

While time will tell what will become of the space at 19 North Broadway, many locals, including Tarrytown resident and longtime fan of Swagat, Andrew Blythe, said he hopes Swagat remains in business but that any new restaurant will have big shoes to fill.

“I’ve found that my deep attachment to Swagat was driven not only by their authentic and deft hand in the kitchen but from the genuine hospitality and the communal warmth the staff gave us,” said Blythe, who ate there numerous times and even celebrated his 50th birthday there with a large group of friends. “The soulful food and the casual formal setting made me always look forward to going there and sharing the experience with others. It would be sorely missed.”

Another Tarrytown resident, Stella King, who has frequented Swagat countless times over the last seven years, shared Blythe’s feelings on the restaurant’s possible closing. “Initially it was about the cuisine – flavorful, spicy, interesting, delicious Indian comfort food at prices that were reasonable. But as the years continued, it became much more than that, and I just can’t believe  the news,” lamented King.

“We have celebrated birthdays, engagements, job promotions, anniversaries — and sometimes just the end to a really fun weekend. It’s really hard to imagine Tarrytown without Swagat’s beyond tasty dishes and warm, welcoming, smiling staff who treated us like family,” added King. “We always looked forward to Mohammad’s welcoming smile, good humor, generous spirit, and guilt- trip for not coming often enough – no matter how often we came! He was such a pleasant and friendly man, and I really miss him.”

Kahn and Kamrujjaman remain hopeful that they can still negotiate a fair deal with Celaj and keep Swagat operational for at least the next five years. “We are a family business and we support our family with this business,” said Kamrujjaman. “We are reasonable and hope to continue Swagat for our family and in Mohammed’s memory. “This pandemic time is difficult for everyone, but we want to continue to serve Tarrytown—our neighborhood—like we have done for so many years.”

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