Dogan runs Gratka, a Polish supermarket in Walthamstow.
Do you live in the borough and if so for how long have you been here?
Yes, I’ve lived in Chingford for about 15 years.
Do you have any connections with the local area?
My brother-in-law owns a jewellery store in the Mall and my wife has a been a primary school teacher in Leyton for 17 years. My mum is living in Chingford now too. She has been there for about four years. She was on her own, and I don’t have any brothers and sisters so it’s nice that I’m living close to her now. There’s a lot of space in Chingford which is great.
Can you tell us about when and why you started your business?
I took over Gratka one and a half years ago. It has been here in Walthamstow for about five years. I used to have a smaller shop in Wanstead, but my brother-in-law recommended this place when he was approached by the previous owner.
The opening hours are a bit better here than the previous place, so it gave me a better work-life balance.
How has the business grown since you were established?
We have such a range of customers from everywhere – obviously a lot of Polish people, but so many from the Eastern European community too: Bulgarian, Romanian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Latvian, some from Russia and Turkey – and also Asian and English customers too.
What makes Gratka unique?
We sell the best quality fresh meat from Poland. We have more than 300 different types of sausages. Our products come from really good Polish suppliers, including our fruit and veg. I could sell cheaper meat if I wanted to but it’s all about the quality of produce.
How many people do you employ and how many of your employees live locally?
We employ seven people. I think everyone lives in Waltham Forest, apart from one woman who recently moved to Cheshunt. It’s convenient for staff to live locally.
What does your business do to support the local community?
We donate to Walthamstow Food Bank at the end of the high street. Whenever there are homeless people outside trying to find food in the bin, I will give away anything that’s going to waste to them. We delivered to vulnerable customers during the pandemic. We did about 30 deliveries all together. Whoever wanted that service, we would do it for them.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced recently?
It has been difficult to get as many deliveries as normal, so we’ve had less stock. We’re used to having set times and days for deliveries but that went out of the window with the pandemic. It has been very difficult to get the products in from Poland, we have struggled to find basics like salt and sugar, even in London. We managed to get a Government bounce-back loan, which will help.
Have you noticed any changes in how consumers are shopping since COVID-19?
Well, yes, the panic buying thing was difficult. It was extremely busy and in the end, we had to limit the amount of stock per person. We had no pasta for several weeks. We had to limit the number of people in the shop and adapt our opening hours a bit.
Why should people use local traders?
When things like the pandemic happen, it shows the importance of shopping locally. The high streets are in trouble. Without people supporting local businesses, high streets and town centres will become ghost towns. Rents and rates are really high at the moment, so local shops need all the support they can get.
Where do you like to hang out locally?
I like to go to Memorial Park, near where I live. I love Turkish food and we go to Nandos on Walthamstow High Street once or twice a year for a treat.