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What is it like working in a kebab restaurant or takeaway for women?

Mesude Aksu and her daughter Begum working at their kebab shop in Cheshunt.

According to data from The Office for National Statistics, less than a quarter of kitchen chefs in the UK are women. The fact that the overwhelming majority of employees in the sector are men gives the impression that the profession is a “macho” one. Likewise, this also suggests that commercial kitchens are inhospitable work of environments for many female workers.

Generally speaking, women often have to juggle work responsibilities and childcare; this can limit their options in terms of choosing working hours, which for many restaurant chefs are long, unsociable and last late into the night.

The same perception is true of the Kebab Industry where a majority of kebab masters are male.

The Kebab Industry is predominantly staffed by men, as in other takeaway sectors. In particular, men for example, tend to be better suited to the physical exertion of cutting doner kebabs, which requires the precise use of long and heavy knives.

In addition, a culture of male dominance exists in workplaces that supply the sector, a plethora of providers from meat wholesalers to haulage firms overwhelmingly hire male workers. These businesses also tend to work until late – adapting to the customer profile of a significant portion of takeaways and increasing sector inaccessibility for women.

One of the most important factors that creates anxiety for women considering work in the Kebab Industry is that takeaway businesses that work at night are scenes of violence – usually from or between drunk customers – more frequently than many other food businesses such as cafes and green grocers.

Organizations such as RestaurantHER in the US are lobbying to increase the number of food businesses owned by women and employing female chefs. The organization, strives to encourage women in to enter the restaurant sector, by publishing the stories of positive female role models. BritShish has done the same below:

Merve Sancakli is working as a manager at Alim-Et Restaurant&Takeaway for about five years.

Alim-Et Restaurant & Takeaways; Merve, who followed in the footsteps of her father and uncle

Merve Sancakli, who has been living in England for 21 years, received training as a partly qualified accountant in England, where she completed her education. She has been working as a manager at Alim-Et for about five years.

She has full knowledge, talent and experience in every field from accounting to cuisine, from bar to grill in the food business sector. Merve who stepped into these businesses by helping her father and uncle from an early age, says that she personally loves working in the Kebab Industry. She finds it very entertaining, dynamic and fastmoving.

She says that working in the kitchen and serving the food that takes a lot of effort, but is an extremely enjoyable job. Noting that being able to chat with customers can be a great source of motivation.

Merve also opposes the “after a night out” perception of kebabs in England.

Reflecting on the meaning of the word “kebab,” Merve says, “Kebab is Barbeque in English, and when the British have a barbecue like us Turks, they gather with family and friends and make it a nice evening or lunch. Meanwhile, why is the dish interpreted in Turkish as barbeque [but] when it is sold in takeaways, it becomes a drunken meal at night, I absolutely do not accept it.”

According to Merve, it will not be easy to change this perception, because the established perception and the late closing time of kebab businesses make it difficult to change this situation, especially because more bar and club customers are able to frequent the restaurants and takeaways during those hours.

On the other hand, the increase in the number of restaurants with kebab menus and their widespread use make the sector more and more high quality. According to Merve, the proliferation of restaurants makes the kebab takeaway sector more interested in lunch or dinner, making it a quality meal for the whole family.

The customer profile of Alim-Et, of which Merve is the manager is usually family customers, emphasising that kebabs can be a healthy and high-quality meal. Most of her customers are aged 30 and above.

Merve doesn’t find it right that the Kebab Industry is predominantly male, and believes that women can be more patient, more skilled and provide customer service in a more professional way. She emphasizes that in her five years as a manger, she has observed that women work faster and are better at concentrating in takeaways and restaurants at the grill or on table service in the sector than their male counterparts.

Explaining that the warm atmosphere created by women in the service and in the kitchen puts a smile on the faces of the customers, Merve argues that the seriousness, speed and customer service abilities of women in this sector are definitely much better than those of men doing the same jobs.

Adding that the only difficulty in working in this sector is that they usually cannot lift heavy materials as well as men, Merve points out that female workers can do tasks such as preparation, cooking and grilling very easily, and says that one of the most important reasons for the lack of women in the sector is the both long and late working hours.

 “Unfortunately, women have duties that seem like an obligation, if there is a child in the house, a woman should take care of them. Although I don’t find it equal, this is also the social reality,” she says.

Alim-Et Restaurant is a complete family business where the Çarçabuk family, brothers, sisters, mothers and cousins have been running in the Kent region for decades, all working together. Over half of the business’ employees are women. The elders of the family, brothers Ali and Ahmet Çarcabuk, are real masters in the kebab industry, and have been since the first days of their migration to England 35 years ago. The brothers are also training their children, both girls and boys to follow in their footsteps.

Senan Deniz ISIK is in the catering industry since 2005.

Tut’s Grill – From TV world to kebab van: Senan Deniz Isik

Located in Southampton, Tut’s Grill has been in business since 1994. The family, which opened branches in a few regions, also opened cafes and takeaway businesses in the following years. Currently operating a kebab van serving in the most elite area in the Hampshire region, Deniz has been living in the UK since 2000. Deniz, who takes part in TV programs and is still an active translator, started in the catering sector in 2005. Deniz’s family interest in the kebab industry goes back even earlier.

Deniz says Tut’s Grill’s has had regular customers since 1994, and their customers usually consist of young people who arrive late at night. Deniz explains that there are also customers who come with luxury cars like Bugattis. While customers who come to her from functions such as weddings are some of the most enjoyable to serve, Deniz also points out that there are regulars who have been coming to the van for kebabs for years, from grandparents to grandchildren.

Expressing that she struggled at first to work with hot machines, and the fact that it is usually night work, Deniz notes that she got used to the job over time and believes that there is nothing that a man can do that a woman cannot do.

Stating that cooking is a profession that requires some intelligence, some strength and effort, Deniz conveys her views on the sector as follows: “I generally like kebabs. In my opinion, the kebab is the most delicious and healthy option in the takeaway sector; because everything is fresh and cooked to order. Usually frozen food is not used, it is healthy, and its sauces contain very little sugar and fat. We also marinate the salad and meat daily, even if it takes some time, we give fresh products to the customers and we get positive feedback on this. A little more vegan options should be added to the kebab [serving]. For example, we introduced Turkey-specific foods, such as kisir, to customers, and the regulars are increasing day by day. When it comes to kebabs, I think it is always necessary to change the perception of meat; we should make options such as aubergine kebabs, potatoes and roasted peppers a product that vegetarians and family customers can have on their dinner tables. We gradually increased our portfolio with fish and salad, onion rings, calamari, and cheese pickles in grill meals. In my opinion, the most important thing to do in the Kebab Industry is to have an umbrella organization here. For example, a foundation can be established, kebab makers can gather under the umbrella of a union, and with good marketing, the kebab can reach the place it deserves. Those who do this job must be in contact with each other more.”

Celal Goksu runs his kebab shop with his wife Mesude and daughter Begum.

Aksu Kebab- Family business- Father, Mother and Daughters

Celal Aksu immigrated to England in 1999, from Göksun, where many restaurateurs running popular Turkish eateries in London hail from. Celal, who has been working in the food industry since 2002, decided to open Aksu Kebab, which has traded in Cheshunt for five years.

A takeaway, with the slogan “Taste of Home” on its door, is another family business that we can often see in the kebab industry. Celal’s wife Mesude and their daughter Begum also help Celal at work. Noting that the support of his wife and daughters has changed the quality and customer profile of the business, Celal notes that family customers have increased and unlike other businesses in the region, they close at 11am. After a while, other takeaways updated their closing hours in the region, and the kebab has ceased to be a late-night meal.

Mesude and her daughters, who consider it unfair that the general perception of kebabs in Britain is a stomach liner for drunks, add that they take care to have a delicious and clean meal that can be served on family tables, including home-made sauces and appetizers.

Begum says she is happy to help her family with her sister. Although there are difficult parts of the job, she enjoys working to establish good relationships with customers and to raise the standards of the business.

Aksu Kebab is one of the rare shops that resist the high commission working models of delivery companies across the country. The Aksu family, the owners of the business, which reaches its customers with its own delivery system, considers high commissions as unfair for both their customers and themselves. The restaurant rejects the delivery companies that frequently knock on their doors, and invites consumers to order without an intermediary and give more support to local businesses.

Fatma Yilmaz is running the restaurant bearing her name in Haywards HEath.

The last stop of Fatma’s food adventures Fatma’s Kitchen

Fatma Yilmaz has worked in catering companies for 20 years in Turkey. She has been living in the UK for five years.

She is married with children and grandchildren, but this did not stop her from operating a Turkish restaurant in an African country for one year. Later, she had a similar experience in Kazakhstan. she then later moved to London. After working as a chef at various businesses, she and her husband opened their own restaurant in Haywards Heath.

She has been running the restaurant bearing her name for a year with her husband, who is also a chef. A two-story restaurant with a garden for up to 150 people.

They are happy with the business and have good relations with their customers.

Fatma is not happy to see the kebab as a night out meal. It bothers her that Turkish cuisine is portrayed like this.

She thinks men’s egoes are very decisive in the industry. The lack of female chefs and cooks is also a problem for the industry. For Fatma, the fact that men keep women one step behind creates such a situation.

Working hours are long, socialising is limited. It starts at 10-11am and lasts until midnight. The work is heavy, but Fatma’s restaurant is managed by a woman who truly loves the sector.

Cafe Helen : named after its owner, a successful female entrepreneur
Cafe Helen is the only business on the Edgware Road, which is dominated by kebab and shawarma stalls, with an unusual name. The owner, Helen Gordon, after whom the business is named, is one of the few business women operating in this sector.
Cafe Helen is one of the oldest food establishments on Edgware Road, open since 1991.  
Cafe Helen, named after its owner, a successful female entrepreneur, is one of the oldest businesses in the region. The unique and enormous sizes of their shawarma kebabs prove why many customers, including famous names, like TV presenter Vernon Kay and Boxer Anthony Joshua are regulars.

The man – and his wife Konjay- behind the first ever doner kebab shop in the UK
Hodja Nasrettin was the first ever kebab shop to hit the UK high street when it opened in 1966. Owner, Cetin Bukey was, at the time, playing clarinet and saxophone on the London circuit with the likes of Barbra Streisand when the idea came to him.
He and his wife Konjay opened a first Ottoman style doner kebab shops in London.
Konjay’s parents had made it over to London in the 1950s – before the first wave of Turks started coming over from Cyprus – and provided the young couple the support and advice that they needed.
Cetin and Konjay then opened their second restaurant which was called Kasimpasa in Upper Street, 1977(Right) 
KonjayHuseyin, was constant support throughout, especially as Cetin continued playing London’s music scene.



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