At the corner of the crossroads outside Blackhorse Road station is a stylish looking Turkish restaurant called Yasar’s, among the many reviews you’ll find for the place on Tripadvisor, many insist that you’ll find Yasar the best Turkish restaurant experience in London. This is a bold claim, so we went to speak with Yasar Restaurant Manager, Mustafa, to see what makes the family restaurant so special.
“I think the most important thing about a left house is that we love to make people feel like they’re in their front room,” he explains. “We want them to feel at home and comfortable.
“We’re a little different from other restaurants where it’s just a pound sign and they’re looking at you to leave as soon as possible so they can free the table for someone else. We’re not, we want people to come over, and have fun like it’s a night out for them, we want them to feel like Part of the family.”
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Yasar Restaurant was first established in 1976 by Mr. Yasar, who moved to the UK from Turkey in 1969. His wife Aysal still lives above the restaurant to this day.
Over the years, the building was passed down through the family, and Mr. Yasser sadly passed away in 1996 and his children took charge. Four years ago, a new manager, Umut, took over the restaurant on a daily basis alongside Mustafa, and the family still owns the building, but takes a back seat at the moment.
However, everyone who works in Yasar today is part of a larger family, as Mustafa describes: “We give the employees free food and a lift home after work, and do our best to take care of them. We are picky though we won” to hire anyone, we give them a try for a few days To know how they interact with customers because that is the most important thing.
“The food has to be high quality, you can find it in a lot of restaurants, but to make you feel comfortable? Not many people can do that.”
Yasar’s strict standards extend to their food as well: “We buy the best food. We don’t make a profit like other restaurants because of that, our prices are a bit lower and we only buy the best, so our margins are thinner.”
“But I’d rather make £1 and make sure my customers are happy than £1 on some poor quality food. And that ethos has been a part of this place for the past 46 years, right from the start.
“Everyone who ran this place, family members or the new manager, has been with us for 20 years and recently took over as the family has gotten older. He knows the way to do things is to maintain the same quality and expectations.”
Mustafa reveals that Aysel often comes from upstairs to make sure things are going the way they should be: “She’ll walk around, explain things, and watch things. She doesn’t own the company anymore but if she spotted a problem she’d say ‘umut that’s not right’ and we’re very respectful and we’ll work on correcting it. It is important that you have it.”
When the restaurant first opened in 1976, things were very different for international restaurants in London. A left door was hidden behind a curtain and diners had to knock and go through the doorman to get to the restaurant.
“Those days were really hard,” Mustafa recalls. “There was a lot of intolerance and racism and there weren’t many foreign restaurants. My mum and dad used to know the family and eat here, they were telling me how they were and they had a really rough time.”
But Yasar Restaurant survived this difficult period and even thrived, becoming one of Walthamstow’s most famous and historical restaurants, building an incredibly loyal client base in the process.
Mostafa says to me with a smile, “We have really great clients, and we’ve still had clients coming here since the day we opened in 1976, we have their sons and daughters, and people come and say their mom and dad met here. We are families coming across generations, even the ones that Now you live far away, you’ll come down once a month or every few weeks. It’s so rewarding to see. When people leave we have people who are going to hug us, they’ll call us from the kitchen and say ‘we’re going, see you next week’.
“Sometimes we see regulars come back after two or three years, and It’s so cute that it makes you cry sometimes. They come in and say ‘we can’t find anywhere like it here, why don’t you open one in Ipswich or Cambridge or Loughton and that makes you so proud, it feels so special.
“I have recently attended a few funerals for clients who have passed away, and their daughters or sons have told us they would like someone left there, so I would normally go, and they would appreciate it very much. We are not just a Turkish restaurant in Walthamstow we are part of the community.”
Yasar’s reputation is not limited to the local community as many local celebrities and big names have passed through the doors and even considered themselves regular people over the years. From London-based footballers like Neil Ruddock, Patrick Vieira or Frank Lampard, even Teddy Sheringham, who went straight to Yasar to celebrate his England debut in 1993.
Mustafa recalls a funny story from the visit of Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand with actor Tamer Hassan: “He asked me: Do you come to Manchester?” He said it was the best kebab he had ever had. I’ll never forget it, he was so funny, so cute Ryo.”
It’s not just about footballers, the East Enders Mitchell brothers, Steve McFadden and Ross Kemp as well as countless London-based rappers come in.
“We’ve had quite a few rappers before, the guys from Top Boy, Kano and Ashley Walters have been in a few times. They’ve come with Ghetts once, he’s here all the time. Chip is a regular member, and we’ve had Heady One too. Those who came were respectable gentlemen, beloved people.”
But the adoration and loyalty that the local community holds, Yasar still cannot protect the historic restaurant from the devastating effects of the cost of living crisis.
Mustafa said to me with a sigh: The cost of living is destroying us. The cost of things went up by nearly £2000 a week, we’re not making a profit anymore, the profit margin is gone. I just don’t know how long we’ll be able to keep things going. It doesn’t matter how busy you are because the busier you are, the higher your expenses.
“If you buy a 20kg bag of onions that were previously £7 or £8, it would be £19 now. The steaks were £8, they are now £14.50. We buy something called KTC oil for cooking chips. Last year it was £14.50, it’s £40 now. A box of lettuce is £18, a tomato £3 now it’s £16.
“Petroleum money has gone up, we are totally over it. Right now it is better to take a wage working for someone else than to run a company, with all that pressure also, it is not worth it at the moment. It can be like this The job pays, and we’ve been here for a long time so we’re working as hard as we can to keep working. But it’s so hard, taxes, electricity, gas, it’s killing business. Everyone’s working the floor.”
Yasar is just one of many historic businesses across London experiencing a cost-of-living crisis that could go away, but one thing is for sure, if that happens it will be a huge loss for the entire city.
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