Suleyman Bulbul, shopkeeper

Estimated reading time:3 minutes, 45 seconds

Everyone in Islington has a story, so meet Suleyman Bulbul from Arsenal Food & Wine – the Blackstock Triangle neighbours favourite shop. Interview by Nicola Baird.

Suleyman Bulbul: “Islington is just better.”

“Everyone knows (my colleague) Ozzie,” says Suleyman, 40, who runs the buzzing Arsenal Food & Wine shop, on the corner of Ambler and Blackstock Road, with Ozzie. “He’s family – my wife is a cousin of his,” he explains.

But people know Suleyman well too, as for the past four years Ozzie and Suleyman have kept this impressive local shop open from 8am to midnight, taking it in turns to do the early or late shift – so that both men do a seven hour day.

Born in the town of Kaysairi, in the central part of Turkey, Suleyman is proud to be an Alivi and speaks three languages Kurdish, Turkish and English. He seems effortlessly to switch between these three, simultaneously serving a stream of customers while being interviewed.  Clearly his first year of a business degree, before it became too precarious for him to continue studying in Turkey, has stood him in good stead. “It was very dangerous, and now Turkey is terrible again, many journalists are in jail,” he says regretfully.  As a result he ended up in London.

In the UK his first job was making women’s jackets, first at a factory in Leighton, and then Hackney. “I’m good at sewing,” he says smiling, “my brother taught me.” Next step was to work in his sister’s shop in Clapton. “I learnt everything about shops through experience,” he adds good humouredly. That said he has big ambition for his two young daughters, 10 and 12 years– including the hope that they will be able to finish any university course.

For now Suleyman’s life is tied up with Arsenal Food & Wine.  “I like to buy different things, I like this shop. Customers say it looks very small from outside. They come in once, and then they come again. We have so many things you can’t find in other shops.” It’s true: come here for your basics, but you can also choose from three different sorts of olives, fresh walnuts, gluten free stock, FSC-certified toilet roll, healthy and Fair Trade items, all sorts of Mediterranean produce and a range of lagers. That’s probably why competition from nearby Tesco, Lidl and Sainsbury’s has not been a problem.

2011: Blackstock Triangle neighbours give their first “best shop” award to Arsenal Food and Wine. The photo is on display behind the counter.

“So many of our customers support small shops, we’ve seen two or three shops close. But we try to make this different, so it’s not the same as the others. Everything is quality, and there is more organic. When customers need something we try to get it, that’s how we started with organic and Ecover refills.” Indeed last year impressed residents from the Blackstock Triangle (households living in the area between Blackstock, St Thomas’ and Gillespie Roads gave Suleyman and Ozzie (see photo above) an award for being their favourite local shop. Quite a crowd collected by the zebra crossing to celebrate with a big picture at the impromptu certificate handover – and of course it made the local Tribune newspaper too.

You’ll find Suleyman and Ozzie together in the shop on Mondays.

Suleyman may be behind the counter most days, but he is a huge fan of the area. “Islington is just better. For example I live in Edmonton on a street like Ambler Road, but there nobody speaks. Even my next door neighbours will only say hi, and that’s it. But here it’s different. People are so friendly.”

Arsenal Food & Wine, 68b Blackstock Road, N4

Open 8am-late. Sells all household needs, stocks fresh veg, all sorts of dairy items/grains/tea/alcohol. There is organic and gluten free stock. Plus one of the few places in Islington to offer Ecover (soap, washing up liquid, all purpose cleaner) refills.

Over to you
What do you think of this wonderful man and his shop? By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know. Thank you. And yes, this blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.