We talk to the family behind the ever-popular Best Food Centre London on Roman Road in Bow and their latest addition to their food empire, Whole Fresh.
When you walk towards Whole Fresh, the first thing you notice is fruits and vegetables lining the front of the shop enticingly in rustic, wooden buckets to attract passers-by. There are also shelves of olive oil, vinegar and every other imaginable condiment, herbs and other deli-style items. There is a constant cool breeze from the refrigerators and the sound of soft jazz wafting over from the shop radio.
It is one of a handful of independent supermarkets on the high street that locals rely on for their fruit and vegetable shopping. The market stretch has Inci Food Centre and Akdeniz, and those in Globe Town have Simply Fresh. Whole Fresh, situated at 407 Roman Road, is ideal for those in the middle stretch of the road.
Opened about a month ago, the new shop is the latest work of the Doldur family, the three siblings who also own and manage the ever-popular Best Food Centre a few doors down on 417 Roman Road.
Oya Tanya Doldur, the youngest, is a vivacious 23-year old. She explains that Whole Fresh is an expansion of their fresh produce selection at Best Food Centre.
‘When we started selling fresh fruits and vegetables there, we realised how popular they had gotten.’ Their produce once adorned the front of the shop, before expanding it by buying the unit next door as they became the go-to convenience shop for fresh vegetables.
As their empire grew, they bought a third unit, before eventually buying the former London Food Centre Roman Road, utilising the lockdown period to transform it into Whole Fresh.
Best Food Centre was started by the middle brother Ilhan Doldur, 37, as an everyday corner shop about 17 years ago. The family originally came from a Kurdish village, Turunclu Koyu, in the Kahramanmaraş Province of Turkey and moved to Hackney when the two brothers were 7 and 8 years old.
Although the shop still continues to operate as a convenience store, albeit a larger one than most, he says he could not have imagined how his business would grow over the years.
‘It was during a very difficult time, trying to find the right path in my life and to make something out of myself. But I love how Roman Road has changed and grown over my time living here, and we’ve learned and grown with them.’
Ibrahim (better known as Ibo) is older than Ilhan by a year, and can usually be found managing the surprisingly capacious Best Food Centre. He says their aim for Whole Fresh is to build on the reputation they had developed for fresh produce.
‘We wanted all our fruits and vegetables all in one place,’ he said. ‘Before, the limited space meant that customers had to go from there to here to find products. Now they can have all of that in one place. It is its own thing.’
The siblings are spread out over north and north east London, with Ibo living in Stoke Newington with his family, Ilhan on Roman Road and Oya in Hackney. Nevertheless, they come together to assist in the shops.
Best Food Centre is stacked with practical items: barbeque charcoal, lighting fluid and an assortment of other cans.
Walk a few doors up, and the exotic vegetable-laden wooden walls of Whole Fresh looks like a completely different brand. Both shopfronts reflect what customers can expect inside.
Already, Whole Fresh is developing a reputation for its expansive selection of fresh produce, selling familiar, as well as more unusual selections.
‘The majority of shops, and chains like Tesco, sell one type of each vegetable and fruit,’ says Oya.
‘So to make our shop different, we really wanted to specialise in fresh produce. For example, we don’t just have one type of carrot; we sell different breeds like purple carrots. Those sell well.’ Some of their other best-selling products are locally sourced honey, Clarence Court eggs and organic lemons. The team are working on expanding their stock from local growers and producers.
Oya works at Whole Fresh a few days a week, but it is the middle sibling and founder of Best Food Centre, Ilhan, who is the mastermind behind their unusual produce.
‘I love the research and I love thinking how I can use what I’ve learnt to create a better shopping experience,’ he says.
‘With Whole Fresh, I wanted to create a supermarket where everyone can pop in and find what they want, even if they didn’t know that’s what they wanted when they came in!’
The effort they put into researching products and their provenance comes from understanding the needs and interests of their clientele that only comes from sheer experience of operating long term on the high street.
They sell halal meat for the Muslim community, and a selection of Polish brands. ‘We really learnt through interacting with people, and also by trial and error,’ says Oya.
‘So customers might ask us if they have a specific brand from Poland, for instance, so we know to order that. Or in the past we’ve ordered in certain brands that didn’t sell well, so we learn from our mistakes too.’
‘Our customers are very engaged; they will see our more unusual produce like our purple carrots and ask, “what kind of carrot is this”, and then buy some just to see if they’ll like it,’ says Oya.
The Doldurs’ ambitions are always growing. Currently, they are planning on turning the space that once occupied their fruit and vegetable section over at Best Food Centre into a section for vegetarian and vegan-friendly products with package free options. Their main vision for the adjoining unit, which is currently under construction, is to turn it into a salad bar and deli. Walking past, one can see the back wall already stocked with bottles of olive oil, vinegar and other products.
The shop name, Best Food Centre, is also under construction as they will be changing the name so that it better aligns with Whole Fresh. So next time you walk past, keep an eye out for a shiny new name in this much loved convenience shop.
If you liked this article, you might also be interested in reading about SimplyFresh.
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