On a dry summer morning in Stoke Newington, East London, a winding queue has formed outside the area’s local Londis N16 – a corner shop which, run by the Patel family since 1979, has become a lively neighbourhood hotspot serving up much more than booze, Lost Mary’s and household essentials you might find at any given offie in the UK.
Over the last few years, as driven by customer demand, the Patels have expanded their fresh, homemade Gujarati food from a couple of Tupperwares sold in the shop to a fully-fledged eatery, mostly cooked up in the kitchen round the back of their shop and sold to punters alongside usual fare.
There are the fan-favourite crispy, golden samosas, chutneys in varieties such as garlic and coriander, mango and chilli, cauliflower pakoras, and rich mutter paneer in a creamy tomato and onion gravy – but that’s not even half of it. The menu changes on a regular basis depending on what Anju, the matriarch of the family and top-notch chef, feels like making.
“Fridays are crazy busy,” says Priyesh, 29, Anju’s second son and the Patels’ self-proclaimed spokesperson. Sitting on a bench in Stoke Newington Common, opposite the shop, he’s wearing low-slung neon green jeans and a distressed white T‑shirt with a gold cap and a pair of mismatched earrings.
Priyesh also runs Londis N16’s Instagram account which, second to all the mouthwatering food, is the shop’s main attraction. It’s filled with an eclectic mix of Grindr screenshots, homemade memes and shots of shop regulars, all usually accompanied by irreverent captions advertising the ever-changing menu for the day.
“At first, we just wanted it to be a kind of newsletter for whatever was going on, because who actually follows a corner shop on Instagram?” he says, his tooth gems glistening. “We’d get eight likes and be like, wow! But now, I enjoy how lighthearted it is. I see it as a parody of a business account.”
Everyone mucks in on the day-to-day running of the business, but every family member has their own niche: Priyesh is in charge of social media and admin, while his brother Alpesh does all the buying alongside Jay, a long-time family friend. Mayank, Priyesh’s dad, mans the shop floor while Anju cooks the food. And Neelam, Priyesh’s sister-in-law, is on dessert duty. Today, she’s been experimenting with a new creation: a cardamom, pistachio and rose cream donut.
Although the Patels have been based in Redbridge, around 10 miles east of Londis N16, for the last 20 or so years, they used to live above the shop. “That’s where me and my siblings were brought up,” Priyesh says. “We were always there, always interacting with customers. I just met someone today who has been in this area for so long he’s known me since I was a kid. But it’s never been forced upon us that this is our future.”
Anju and Mayank always encouraged their kids to study – Priyesh graduated with a BA in Fashion History from Central Saint Martins in 2016 – but the pandemic saw the family return to the shop en masse. “There is a luxury to working here and we have so much freedom,” Priyesh continues. “What we’ve created is really interesting and I’m really happy to have taken on a more creative role. We don’t have a traditional set-up – our time off is really important and we very much have lives outside of the shop.”
Round the back, family photos and homemade birthday cards cover the walls and a variety of everyday products line the shelves, from CBD gummies and toothbrushes to multivitamins and Lemsip. As Priyesh said, the Patels take their resting-time seriously: there’s also a dedicated place to nap.
“We all have staggered nap times,” he says, laughing. “I literally can’t live without one now. I feel like I’ve been indoctrinated by my parents’ timeline! I used to just watch TV and eat crisps back here but now I nap. My dad’s quite rigid about it, too – one time there was a police officer looking at our CCTV and he just had a nap while he was there. So, yeah, relaxing is very much a part of our routine.”
Beyond selling homemade food directly to their hungry customers, since last April, the Patels have also been running regular supper clubs, much to the delight of people outside East London. The first one was a collaboration with Delli, a Depop-style app where independent chefs and makers can sell their food.
“Doing a supper club gets the word out outside of Stoke Newington so that other people can interact with our food, and we’ve always wanted to push it into a new area of London. Delli has allowed us to join this community of small makers, which is a really nice circle to be a part of.”
Community, ultimately, is at the heart of Londis N16. Mayank grew up in Kabwe, Zambia, before moving to Timberva, a small Gujarati village. Anju’s from Gangaria, also a small village in the state of Gujarat. Their culinary knowledge has been passed down through generations. “My parents and grandparents’ mentality has always been about feeding the community,” Priyesh continues. “Even though the community itself has changed a lot, we want to offer this food to everyone.”
Which begs the question: how have the Patels adapted to rampant gentrification in and around East London?
“When we grew up here, my friends’ parents wouldn’t let them come over and even cab drivers wouldn’t drop us off in Hackney. I couldn’t go on the high street on my own,” Priyesh says. “But I think being a resident is quite different to being a shop. We’ve adapted slowly, having always put money back into the shop to renovate it and ordering stuff that customers are asking for.
“Communities that are less privileged rely on each other more, and shopkeepers always rely on their customers, but we do benefit on a business level from people who have more money. I have an appreciation for the new customers and the old ones, is all I can say. We’ll always have affordable lines.”
For now, the Patels are hoping to get at least one more supper club booked in before Christmas. The family’s long term goal isn’t necessarily to take over the world, though – a slow pace suits them perfectly. “This probably isn’t a good answer because you want big dreams and all that stuff,” Priyesh says. “But my mum has just started this crazy venture at 50! It’s so inspiring to see her do that, and do it so well.
“She loves doing it, we love seeing people enjoy the food we grew up with. It’s very healing for all of us. And if she wants to retire tomorrow or in 20 years, we’d be happy with that.”
Get yourself down to Londis N16, 76 Fountayne Road, for samosas, pakoras and a fat slice of something sweet every Saturday. For now, though, the Patels are taking a well-earned break from serving hot food until September.