Obituary: Founder of city's 'Bhaji Man' food stall dies aged 87

Don Lear, known as 'the Bhaji Man', died aged 87 in Little Plumstead.

Don Lear, known as 'the Bhaji Man', died aged 87 in Little Plumstead. - Credit: Jonathan Lear

An entrepreneur and chef whose beloved onion bhajis made him a legend of Norwich's culinary scene has died aged 87.

Don Lear Somasiri Iddamalgoda was born in Sri Lanka on December 29, 1934, to Chandradasa and Harriet.

Don was the oldest of nine children, brother to Chandra, Nihal, Chitral, Indra, Rangith, Sita, Keith and Ravindra. 

Don Lear was born in Sri Lanka, before moving to London and settling in Little Plumstead, Norwich.

Don Lear was born in Sri Lanka, before moving to London and settling in Little Plumstead, Norwich. - Credit: Jonathan Lear

He attended school at St Thomas’ College, a boarding school in Gurutalawa.

Don immediately showed promise as a cricketer and played for the college team while also rising through the ranks as an army cadet.

Upon leaving school, keen to make something of his life, Don bought a one-way ticket to the United Kingdom and sailed to England in 1959, with just £7 to his name. 

Don's youngest son, Jonathan Lear, said: "Initially getting a job in a garage, his work ethic and natural confidence around people was soon noticed. He was later appointed chief mechanic with a Volkswagen (VW) distributer.

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"By 1968 he had transferred to sales and was able to utilize his natural enthusiasm and incredible sales acumen to become their most successful salesman.

"He worked hard and always put in many hours - he was a great asset to the company."

After Don's first marriage, in which he had his first child Jeremy, ended amicably he met his second wife Joan, in Belsize Park, London.

Don Lear moved to Norfolk and went on to open up a Volkswagen (VW) and Audi partnership in 1989.

Don Lear moved to Norfolk and went on to open up a Volkswagen (VW) and Audi partnership in 1989. - Credit: Jonathan Lear

Jonathan, who Don later welcomed with Joan, said: "They courted for a while - six years in fact - before they married on May 22, 1971, at Hampstead Registry Office.

"Their anniversary would have been on May 25 and they would have been married for 51 years.

"He always respected Joan and believed that he could never have achieved his success without her."

After moving to Norfolk, Don opened Thetford Coachworks in 1979 before opening up a VW Audi dealership 10 years later.

Jonathan said: "There were long hours but his incredible business sense and ability to lead a team continued in every one of his successful ventures.

"He was strong in body, spirit, and in commitment - he was self-made and self-reliant, constantly broadening his horizons."

Don Lear married his second wife, Joan, in 1971 at Hampstead Registry Office.

Don Lear married his second wife, Joan, in 1971 at Hampstead Registry Office. - Credit: Jonathan Lear

Don finally retired, saying to his wife Joan: 'I’ll cook for you from now on' - a habit he had kept up for 20 years.

However ever keen for another adventure, Don soon launched his next endeavour 'The Bhaji Man'.

Jonathan said: "It was cooking that pulled Don away from retirement.

"Never one to let the grass grow under his feet, he began to cook for family, friends and close neighbours.

"He was incredibly happy when cooking and would make fantastic chicken curries with all the side dishes imaginable -  known especially for his onion bhajis.

"After moving to Little Plumstead in 2012, he would set up his stall outside the Forum in Norwich and demonstrate his curries, passing out samples."

Don Lear's last entrepreneurial adventure was as 'the Bhaji Man'. 

Don Lear's last entrepreneurial adventure was as 'The Bhaji Man'. - Credit: Jonathan Lear

After eventually retiring for a second time a number of years later, Don returned to his passion of cricket, as well squash and golf.

He also enjoyed time with his two grandchildren - Daniel and Jake. 

In June 2020 Don suffered a debilitating stroke where he spent six months in hospital.

Jonathan added: "We weren't able to spend any time with him due to lockdown.

"Thankfully he recovered enough to be sent home where my mum cared for him 24 hours a day."

Don died peacefully around 7.30am on April 22, 2022, with his wife and sons by his side.

Don Lear excelled at cricket at a young age and continued to play throughout his life.

Don Lear excelled at cricket at a young age and continued to play throughout his life. - Credit: Jonathan Lear

Jonathan said: "Generous to a fault, Don was a thoughtful and incredibly hard-working man.

"He could relate to people of all walks of life and enjoyed life to the full.

"Don set a lasting impression on everyone he met and he could make every person feel like they were the most important person in the world, gaining a great deal of pleasure encouraging people and seeing them succeed.  

"A good and loyal friend, loving husband, father and grandfather - he was all of these and more.

"He will be greatly missed by everyone whose life he touched."