The first thing to say about Flames Kebab and Fish Bar, run by Qaseem Azemi and his team on Croydon High Street, is that the food is delicious.

The chicken doner wrap that was served when the Croydon Guardian visited on Thursday, July 15, was as succulent, spicy and downright satisfying as a wrap has any right to be.

With food like this, Qaseem could rightly expect business to be booming at present, especially with such a prime location in one of London's most populous boroughs.

But these are not normal times.

"It's been really hard," he told the Croydon Guardian.

"As you can see for yourself, it's empty. The high street is empty, this place was usually packed. There's a lot of empty shops. I don't know what Covid is doing but it's affecting all the local businesses."

Croydon's economic woes predate the pandemic, and are perhaps most obvious on the High Street, where boarded up shop fronts loom over declining numbers of window shoppers and passersby.

Your Local Guardian: Boarded up and empty shop fronts seen on Croydon High Street on Thursday, July 15. Image: @lando_j Boarded up and empty shop fronts seen on Croydon High Street on Thursday, July 15. Image: @lando_j

And despite the clear decline in the power of such a location for any small business, rents remain "extremely high", Qaseem said, putting heightened pressures on the business.

Even that pales in comparison to the impact of Covid-19, however.

The economic sting of the virus was felt by small businesses everywhere, but soothed somewhat by unprecedented government support during lockdown.

Unfortunately for Qaseem and co., a frankly brutal coincidence of timing meant they were not even permitted to get that help, so necessary for keeping so many smaller businesses afloat during the pandemic.

"We opened on March 3 but were only fully formed in April, during the first Covid wave, so we were not eligible for any government support," he described.

"We have not had a single penny from the government, we've applied for so many of the help schemes.

"So we had to close the shop for five months. It was really, really hard.

"But now slowly we're getting back on our feet. We opened in November. I haven't had a day off since then," Qaseem said, describing matter-of-factly how he works 12 hours shifts, day in, day out to keep his business going.

A licence for late night opening that was lacking when the store initially opened last year finally comes through next month, in line with ongoing easing of restrictions, and Flames Kebab and Fish Bar can open up fully beyond 11pm.

This will likely entail even more hard work for him and his employees, who hope to welcome more of the late night revellers (in addition to their delivery service) who are the staple customers of so many high street takeaways in the UK.

"People are coming in, but because of early closing with a licence issue that's affected us a lot. In about a week's time we'll be open properly...

"I have a friendship with our staff and I levelled with them about the difficulties we were going through. But they all trusted me and we just have to see what happens," the Croydon man said.

But how optimistic is Qaseem for the future?

"Honestly, I don't know," he said.

"I've lived in Croydon for 15 years, and it was never like this, even when I was at school. It used to be packed with shops and everything. Now there's nobody here. Literally.

"I blame it on Covid and on Croydon Council.

"When I opened we had to borrow some money to turn it around. I thought I'd probably finish off my debt in a year, but we were closed for half of that year and during lockdown there was no-one here anyway so it was always impossible.

"The whole area was like a ghost town. It was almost scary. But it is what it is. In life you get hardships and you've just got to fight. We hope for the best."

Flames Kebab and Fish Bar are located on 92 Croydon Hight Street and deliver on Just Eats.

Click here to check out the menu.