Neri Gun runs Downhills Park Cafe in Tottenham, serving a menu which reflects the local area. She is a well know figure in the community, working hard to build relationships between old and new Tottenham residents, most recently through her Tottenham Mixer events. She can also be found selling her famous patties at Tottenham Green Market on Sundays. Amy Bush caught up with Neri to find out more.
Photo supplied: Neri Gun founder of Tottenham Mixers and who runs Downhill Park Cafe
Can you tell us a bit about your background and your connection to Tottenham.
My parents came to Tottenham in the 1970s. I’m mixed heritage; my mum is Turkish Cypriot, a little bit of black, a little bit of Bulgarian and Italian, and my dad is mixed with tribal nomadic Egyptian and Turkish. They moved over here and then met in the 70s. My sister and I were born in Tottenham on Elmer Road, off West Green Road, so my entire life has been in Tottenham - I went to school here, everything about me is Tottenham. It’s my home.
How did you come to running Downhills Park Cafe?
It was a bit of fate really, I think my destiny just led me in this direction. I was really anti the main stream education in Tottenham - I didn’t feel like the schools were very good and I was very concerned about where my son was going to go. I found out about this pre-school called Sunbeams in Northumberland Park - it’s a charity so has concession prices, but nonetheless it’s a private school with fees which I couldn’t afford to pay. I went to the principle and asked if I could I work there in return for my child and my niece attending the school. She said they needed someone to wash dishes, so that’s what I did. While I was there I met a wonderful woman called Verona, who was the head chef at the school and she really opened my eyes in regard to ingredients and imagination with food.
I developed the Coconut Factory from that kitchen and I started to sell cakes to local businesses. Through The Thinking Space project in Tottenham I had the opportunity to gain the qualifications I needed to be able to work around children and to also get my food hygiene qualification. I was selling my cakes to a café in Manor House, then one day I got a call from them saying that Haringey council had approached them about a derelict building sitting in Downhills Park. They thought it could be right up my street - that was 2-3 years ago.
The most important thing for me when starting the cafe was that we didn’t lose its community feel. I was observing a lot of changes happening in Tottenham, including the gentrification of Tottenham. I know a lot of people are quite upset about that but, to be honest, Tottenham wasn’t that nice before and it gave me an opportunity to create the sort of place I’d want to bring my child and my friends would want to hang out in. People seem to love the food and the way it doesn’t matter who you are, what colour you are, what class you are, I’m going to talk to you the same, and people seem to like that – it makes them think “okay, so this is Tottenham”. In the summer it’s like a festival every day. There’s such a diverse group of people using the space because they all feel like they can. So, I went from washing dishes to running a whole business!
Photo supplied: Neri Gun
You’ve started running ‘Tottenham Mixers’ at the café. What are they and why did you decide to start them?
I realised the café had become a bit of a bridge for the community; where old school Tottenham and new school Tottenham were all getting together, and this is one of the few places where that happens. I decided to say: This is actually happening here, so how about, instead of all the Bulgarian ladies sitting over there, and all the middle-class white ladies sitting over here, and all the Turkish people over there, how about we actually have a coffee and say hello to each other?. It’s not enough for us to say we live on the same street and say hello sometimes. If you want to maintain the integrity of what community actually means you need to work together. Because all the little babies running around are all cute now, but soon they’re going to be teenagers and you want someone to be able to let you know if they see your child out in the street. That’s how you maintain the safety in your space and create a real community for our children to feel part of, like I did growing up. It’s about talking to each other, finding some common ground and maybe create some real friendships.
Is there anything you’d like to see change in Tottenham?
I’d like to see a bit of re-unification between the businesses. I think the community is really open and always looking for opportunity to do things together, but the businesses need to now be held accountable to their input and the effect they have on the wider community. Tottenham is one of those places where new people are moving in all the time, but this is the first time that the middle class, young, able-to-spend community has come to Tottenham so now the businesses are thinking they can just put their prices up, but no you can’t do that. If you look at my demographic it’s very white middle class, if I wanted I could have put my prices sky high, but I didn’t do that, because even if the majority of people that use this space are able to afford high prices, the minority won’t and it will push them away. Some businesses have their prices higher but are providing an above average service, catering for a niche in the market. But when people aren’t putting in the effort and the care and are still putting their prices up you think “hang on a minute”. But it’s a difficult topic because everyone needs to make money.
Photo supplied: Neri with her patties
You also sell your patties at Tottenham Green Market on Sundays, how did that come about?
We were already selling patties here at Downhills, and Marika, who runs Tottenham Green Market, comes here often. She loved them and people in Tottenham started talking about them. Then there was a festival at the market one week so I told Marika that we wanted to come, and so we did. I’m very much a market person, I shout at everyone! And Marika was like “this is what we need!” so she asked if we’d trade every week.
The way we make our patties, and the menu we have at the café, we do because Tottenham deserves a higher standard of food. I’m not saying it needs to be ridiculously priced, but when I bite into a patty I don’t want any “mystery meat”! We developed these patties because we wanted to up the standard. We have the most diverse flavours which you can’t get anywhere else. Where else are you going to get a sweet patty with dark chocolate and plantain?
Photo supplied: Neri at Tottenham Green Market
Where are your favourite places in Tottenham?
A lot of the socialising I do is via food, so, I really like going to Bom Pecado on West Green Road, they make some bad boy Portuguese seafood in there! I like going to True Craft for pizza and beer. If it’s going to be a Tottenham pizza it’s got to be a True Craft pizza; I like the boys in there and the vibes. In the summer time I do like the Colombian place on the corner at Seven Sisters, Pueblito Paisa.
I do a lot of shopping at Tottenham Hale Retail Park actually. Everything you need is there! They just need a little café so there’s some decent food... But they’re knocking it down now so it doesn’t really matter!
Also, I don’t think it’s really considered Tottenham, but I love Woodberry Wetlands. I like going there in the spring/summer, it’s beautiful.
The next Tottenham Mixer takes place 11am on 13th April at Downhills Park Café. It’s a great opportunity to get to know people in your area and help create a stronger community in Tottenham which will benefit us all.
Follow Neri on Instagram for updates on the many events taking place at Downhills Park Café over the spring and summer @downhillsparkcafen17