We chat to Khan, the charming septuagenarian owner of Kadas
I spend a lot of time wandering around northern backstreets gawping at restaurants and bars. On this particular occasion, as I’m squinting over the road at a cafe with no visible signage, trying to work out the story behind it, a man waves and beckons me over. “Come! Come! I’ll make you some tea,” he says, knowing absolutely nothing about me. I’m instantly charmed.
We don’t use oil here, nothing is fried. Everything is baked in the oven
Introducing himself as Khan, the man tells me he is the cafe’s owner - and he’s an absolute diamond. I learn that the place is called Kadas and was opened 24 years ago by his brother-in-law, who has now retired. Khan, who is 71, doesn’t want to retire. He tells me, “I have to work. I love to work - and keep interacting with people.”
During the lockdown, he struggled with staying still so he bought an exercise bike and rode it for three hours a day. He’s glad to be back doing what he loves and making friends with everyone who walks through the door. But the place is struggling.
“I notice people passing by, they are very curious to know, what is the activity here? What is this business?” I’m curious too, I tell him, as I explain that I write about food and drink and ask if he minds me telling his story.
Father of four, Khan came to the UK from Iran 48 years ago to study textile technology at Bradford University before going to Leicester University to do a master's. He went back home to work in the textile industry, going on to become “chairman of the biggest factory in Iran”, he then spent 10 years living a “very luxury life” in Dubai before heading back to Yorkshire.
He shows me a business card he has kept for 30 years in his wallet, it’s in remarkably good nick. I think of the dog-eared ones of my own at the bottom of my rucksack. His full name printed on the card reads like poetry, Abolghassem Khangosstar. He says he decided Khan was easier for the people of Yorkshire to pronounce (then again we do manage Mytholmroyd, Slaithwaite and Heckmondwike).
Healthy, inexpensive food
“In my family, back in my country, we always had restaurants, sandwich bars, ice creams. All the time, my family was engaged with catering. I’m very fussy with food. I eat in restaurants very rarely, even in my country. I prefer to have simple food at home. I’m a very good cook. I’m from the North of Iran. The place I was born is very famous for foods like mirza ghasemi which is made from aubergine and garlic. I make very good fish - my house in Iran is only 100 metres from the Caspian Sea.”
He tells me that he mostly makes Moroccan food at Kadas because that’s what’s more popular in these parts. But you can get some Persian dishes and traditional Iranian tea here too, served with crystalline saffron sugar that looks like jewellery. Khan proudly shows off the "best" saffron he uses in some dishes.
“Most of my customers are English. We don’t use oil here, nothing is fried. Everything is baked in the oven,” says Khan, “I’ve got very special regular customers. They are coming for healthy food.”
The most popular dish is a chicken, hummus and cheese sandwich but people also come for simple mezze plates with a choice of fried potatoes, Mediterranean veg, mushrooms, peppers, aubergines, falafels, vine leaves, hummus and more. If you’re looking for meaty protein, there is chicken shawarma in traditional Persian khobez wraps or spicy Iranian sausage made from beef blended with a very hot chilli sauce. “The people who like genuine spicy come here,” says Khan.
The food is very reasonably priced (and it doesn’t hurt that you can bring your own booze) but Khan tells me he recently had to up the prices by 20% due to inflation. The bread he buys has gone up by 100% from 50p to £1 and that’s before you factor in gas and electric.
But he doesn’t have faith that the government can do anything besides perhaps offering long-term low-interest loans. While we’re chatting over tea served in tiny glasses, a fellow businessman pops in to ask if Khan is interested in buying his pizza business because he can't manage anymore. Khan predicts many bankruptcies in hospitality. We’re already seeing it. And it's only going to get worse as customers too are affected by the cost of living crisis and can't afford to eat out as much. He argues the problem goes way up the chain beyond the restaurants themselves.
“I do not see any signs in this country of the government helping manufacturers. I am a very small business owner [and in the] past five months, purely I feel the inflation and sometimes I'm losing here - not all the time, some weeks,” Khan flicks through his hand written accounts book, “For example, last week of December, first week of January, two weeks in February, I lost.”
A changing Leeds
“Everything is changing here,” he says. “Prices are changing, environment is changing. I’ve been here 48 years. Before, people respected each other [more]. Behaviour, cooperation, everything was fantastic. Nowadays, at 9 or 10 o clock if I’m still here, a lot of drug dealers coming here. Teenagers! The police don't bother.”
The food scene has changed too in Leeds in the years Kadas has been open, mostly for the better, he thinks.
“There are a lot of new menus in different restaurants - from Thailand, from China, from Sri Lanka, Iran. About 40 years ago, pizza was the only king of the food here. Nobody was introducing any new food. [But] the prices have gone up and the quality came down. We prefer to resist bringing down our quality.”
An alternative events space
But there’s more than food and friendly service on offer at Kadas. Up a Moroccan-tiled staircase at the back of the cafe, the room opens out into a traditionally decorated shisha lounge with colourful draped fabric, scattered cushions and ornate metal tea tables. Khan reckons Kadas was the first shisha lounge in Leeds when it opened 20-odd years ago. He tells me with reverence about shisha’s two-thousand-year history but admits he has never smoked it in his life. “I sell it but I don't smoke it.”
Whether you are a shisha fan or not, you can hire the room for events and celebrations - it would make for a really beautiful, relaxed setting for a large get-together.
So why is there no sign outside the cafe? “I was going to put a shade on it but the sign is [behind] the shade so I have ordered a new one to go on the glass.” By the time you read this, the new sign might be in place. Either way, I hope this article signposts you to pay Khan a visit and help this tiny, long-standing business stay afloat.
Kadas, 5 Crown St, Leeds LS2 7DA
Follow Kelly on Instagram @keliseating
Read next: Things to do in and around Leeds: July 2022
Read again: Leeds restaurant deals: July 2022
Get the latest news to your inbox
Get the latest food & drink news and exclusive offers by email by signing up to our mailing list. This is one of the ways that Confidentials remains free to our readers and by signing up you help support our high quality, impartial and knowledgable writers. Thank you!