Raj Sharma, with wife Priyanka, has operated his Indian Mehfil restaurant in Ipswich since 2010.
Raj Sharma, with wife Priyanka, has operated his Indian Mehfil restaurant in Ipswich since 2010.

Council decides future of popular CBD restaurant

A POPULAR Indian restaurant in the heart of the CBD will remain in the heritage-listed building it has called home for more than a decade after councillors voted for a new lease to be offered to the business owner.

Indian Mehfil’s lease for the council-owned building at 116 Brisbane Street was due to expire on June 30.

The council will now enter into a new five-year lease with owner Raj Sharma to remain in the building built in 1878.

Priyanka Sharma and Baljit Sanger ahead of the 2019 Diwali Festival. The Sharmas organise the annual event.
Priyanka Sharma and Baljit Sanger ahead of the 2019 Diwali Festival. The Sharmas organise the annual event.

All councillors voted in favour of this option with the exception of Division 3’s Andrew Fechner, who was out of the room due to a conflict of interest related to his family’s business in the city centre.

In a report to councillors, council officers put forward that the building could be used instead as a cafe or bistro to compliment the Ipswich Art Gallery next door.

The building was originally used as a Bank of Australasia branch but closed in 1943.

It was bought by the council in 1985 and used as an office, library and tourist information centre before being leased out to be used as a restaurant and bar and then a Turkish restaurant.

Mr Sharma has been operating his restaurant at the site since 2010 and organises the annual Diwali Festival, which was cancelled last year due to COVID-19.

He has publicly outlined how difficult it has been to operate his business from the heart of the city as foot traffic plummeted with the CBD being redeveloped.

Just before COVID-19 hit, he was forced to shut for two months to repair a sunken floor in the kitchen.

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The report presented to councillors noted the location of building has the potential to “function as the social gathering point of Ipswich’s arts precinct”.

“This high profile location, amid an impressive group of heritage buildings, is frequently the central orientation position for visitors to the city,” it notes.

“With the redevelopment of the Ipswich CBD, there is opportunity to give further consideration to the expansion and improvement of what is referred to as ‘The Arts Precinct’ located on the corner of Brisbane and Nicholas Streets (d’Arcy Doyle Place).

“The premises at 116 Brisbane Street are ideally placed to support the further development and expansion of the art gallery and public arts building.

“Industry survey data reveals the importance of easy access to coffee/cake and or lunch as a key determinant for visitors when making decisions to visit cultural venues.

“A cafe or bistro to support the art gallery would extend the duration of visits and capture increased expenditure during a visit.

“The lack of a gallery cafe or bistro is the most frequent visitor complaint received by the Ipswich Art Gallery.”

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The report notes the site could serve as a bistro or cafe and the interior could be filled with artwork and heritage items from the gallery’s collection.

“The Ipswich Art Gallery and the subject premises have a long and close association,” it notes.

“The proximity and heritage characteristics of the two buildings allows for a comfortable flow of patrons from one to the other.

“A gallery supported bistro/cafe would provide the catering for art gallery booked tour groups, opening events and functions.

“This will provide vital support to the Nicholas Street Precinct and bolster foot traffic to the CBD and The Arts Precinct as a tourist destination.

“This is currently not an option while the premises are offered under a lease agreement.”

Ultimately, council officers recommended a new lease being offered to Mr Sharma and this was backed by councillors.

“The ideal location of the subject premises and the expiring tenancy of the building presents an opportunity to explore the proposal of expanding the Arts Precinct further,” the report notes.

“However, it is recognised that it will take some time to develop a proposal with options for future use, determine the viability of those options and identify any necessary sources of funding.”

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Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.