She and her husband Okan run the Mini Mart in Leytonstone.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the Mini Mart – its origins, where you are from and how long you’ve been here?
We live above the shop. My husband, Okan, first set up the Mini Market business with two partners in 2003. Those were really hard days. They barely had anything to eat at the time and they were just buying and selling what they could.
I’m from Brazil and met Okan online. He’s from Turkey. The first time we met in 2010 we got engaged! Soon after, we met for a second time and got married in Turkey. We’ve been together ever since!
In 2014, we opened another business in Bishop’s Stortford. So we were running two businesses in those days but that became really hard and unfortunately we couldn’t make the shop in Bishop’s Stortford work.
The costs of running two business simultaneously became really difficult and we decided to concentrate everything into the Mini Market business. That was in 2017.
How has the business grown?
We were quiet around that time. It was after Brexit so things were a struggle for different reasons. However, we had a lot of eastern European customers at that time too and we were selling a lot of eastern European beers.
It was then we started finding out about craft beer. We didn’t know much about it when we started, but that began to change when we started getting all these recommendations from our customers. That’s when we decided craft beer could be something we could focus more of the business on.
We decided to stop selling big beer brands and started to only sell craft beers. We didn’t have to look very far. There are so many good breweries in Waltham Forest and east London. We started off with a few breweries like Wild Card (based in Walthamstow) and now we sell loads of fantastic beer from local brewers.
I’ve also done my qualifications through Beer and Cider Academy on Advanced Beer Tasting and How To Judge Beer. No joke!
It wasn’t just beer. We slowly started to phase out selling big international brands like Walkers and Nestle, much preferring to sell local products – and we’ve achieved that now.
Another really important thing was introducing the refilling stations. An ethical eco economy is something we’re really passionate about so we decided it was time to start practicing what we preach. It started with cleaning product refills as they were easier to persuade people of the value of buying in bulk. People are maybe fussier about what they eat.
We have a very loyal customer base who use the mini market, so we needed to bear that in mind when making such drastic changes. Luckily we have such a good relationship with our customers built up over years, so it was really easy to have those conversations.
There were some who didn’t need convincing to use them at all and didn’t think about it. With some of the others, we had to talk about what we were trying to do to lessen our environmental impact. For example with something like milk, Okan had to persuade them that they were getting good quality, organic stuff from the refill.
Luckily, he has the gift of the gab and most people have come around to the refilling stations! They’ve been a great success.
How would you describe your relationship with the local community in Leytonstone?
People are the best thing! During the pandemic, we put on so much weight, because people were just bringing us so much bread and other treats all the time – even a Sunday roast once!
Our customers are everything, we’re very loyal to each other and we know so many people in the community. We have even been invited to a few people’s weddings in London, which has been amazing. Some of them now have kids, so the next generation is coming through.
Why Leytonstone? What makes it special?
Leytonstone really has such a strong community feel. Whatever you want to try and whatever you want to do, you can do it here. We’re not planning to go anywhere else any time soon.
What does your business do to support the local community?
We’re quite involved locally. Firstly, through Transition Town, Leytonstone, which is a network of sustainability thinkers, workers and professionals who take on local environmental community actions such as community gardens and local produce stalls.
We’re also a part of the Leytonstone Green Directory, which features businesses involved with reducing waste and making environmentally conscious decisions.
Why is that important to you?
Its all very well saying you care about the environment but you have to follow that up with actions. We’re just so glad that when we decided to make these changes, our customers came along with us.
What have been the challenges for the Mini Market since the Covid-19 lockdown?
The most difficult thing was getting stock. Big shops were getting all the supplies, so that was really challenging. At the height of it, we weren’t just tired, we were exhausted. To be honest, I cried for two weeks. We had to close for a few days as we didn’t have enough stock for our customers. We couldn’t afford to hire anyone either as the finances were impacted.
Has your business had to adapt or remodel due to Covid-19?
We knew we were in a really lucky position as people would continue to shop with us. But you really only get back from the community what you put in.
Were there any unexpected positives that came out of the pandemic?
Well, people were at home more, so would shop here more often, that was a positive. It was helpful.
What are your plans to grow and sustain your business over the next year?
We’re moving to a new shop about ten doors down! We had planned to move there before Covid, but it’s now going ahead. It’s three times the size which will make such a massive difference, as we’ll be able to order more stock in bulk and not have to place orders every day and deal with the issues of space constraints. Having a stock room will make such a difference! We will be able to offer more package-free groceries and expand the craft beer range. Hopefully it’ll give us a much better work-life balance too and maybe we can start employing people. That will make things easier.
Depending on the Covid situation, we want to set up a meeting area for pop-up wine tasting sessions. Hopefully that’s something we can do really soon.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for your business in the new Covid-19 era?
When people struggle financially, that will obviously have an impact on us as people won’t be able to spend in the same way. If businesses around us don’t survive, it will have a huge knock-on effect. If no one else is on the high street, our business won’t survive.
Why would you encourage people to shop locally?
People should support local businesses because local business keeps the market competitive, offering people so much choice. It keeps the community going, making it so much more united.
Where do you shop locally?
We shop at the Dog’s Dinner pet shop near the station, which is amazing and handy as we have three dogs – Brandy, Raki and Sheeba.
Our favourite places to go are Panda – the café down the road – everyone knows about Panda. Dolce bakery next door is great and I also love the Paradise café and Primrose Florist.