Cemal Kilnic: shopkeeper

7 Aug

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  At 92 Gillespie Road there’s Arsenal Food & Wine, open from 6am-11pm, and next door the Four Angels café. Shop owner and Arsenal fan Cemal Kilinc talks about 10 years running an Islington corner shop. Interview by Nicola Baird

Cemal Kilnic: xx

Cemal Kilnic: runs Arsenal Food & Wine corner shop on Gillespie Road.

“We had a family tragedy in 2011 and lost my brother’s wife and three kids in a crash (all lived in Haringey). They were five, eight and 13. It was reported  in the English newspapers*. It was the school holidays so they went to Turkey, they wanted to come back early – it was the day before they were coming home. We lost all of them, if only there was one…” says Cemal wiping tears away.

It’s an agonizing way to start an interview but for Cemal and his brother Turabri – who wasn’t in the car – there is no way they can forget the horror of that summer two years ago. So, they made a shrine next door to the shop – the Four Angels Café.

Four Angels Café is a lovely local amenity – it serves good tea, coffee and macaroons. I’ve used it for interviews for islingtonfacesblog before, see Stanley Smart here.

But if you go to the back of the café, by the leather sofas, you can see the four angels – black and white pictures of Cemal’s youngest niece in a pretty dress; all the kids happily posing; plus Turabir and his wife looking chic. On a shelf to the left of the family pictures there’s also a heartbreaking memento, four pairs of empty party shoes.

Essential stop-off for anyone using Gillespie Road.

Essential stop-off for anyone using Gillespie Road – cafe and shop.

Corner shop
“The cafe used to be a betting office, William Hill and next door, my shop used to be a launderette,” says Cemal after a break. He’s extra busy as his brother has gone to Turkey. “But then they opened a Tesco on Drayton Park and make it look like a corner shop – they shouldn’t be allowed, it means local shops suffer.”

“Mine is a tiny corner shop,” he says, “but our busy time is 4-7pm when people walk along from the train station.” And of course on match days – although a big fan of the Gunners, he “can only watch on the TV. But all the staff like the match days!”

Birth, bees and books
Cemal finished high school in Turkey in 1982. I guess that means he was born in 1964, but he isn’t so sure that he’s 49 years old. “I was born in the village so my dad and mum only know roughly my age. We could all be five years younger or older,” he says laughing. “I wish I’d been born in this country (the UK, just like his 19-year-old daughter Melisa was who is in her 2nd year at university, studying psychology), as my English is not perfect though I can read and write.”

He’s being modest though; his English is 100 per cent fine.

“In my dream I wanted to be a doctor in my country. But to start university you have to have very good points. I only had enough to be a teacher, and I didn’t’ want that. So I can’t be a doctor,” he says “I’m disappointed,” but he’s laughing again now.

It’s a curious dream as when he was three or four years old, Cemal refused to go to hospital for treatment. “My dad had 10-15 bee hives, for honey, and when the bees swarmed I tried to get home to safety, but fell down on a sharp stone so I’ve got a scar [it is actually quite a Harry Potter type of scar on his forehead]. My mum and dad tried to take me to the hospital but I cried because I was scared of injections… so they didn’t take me.”

In the end the political situation in Turkey saw Cemal and his family coming to the UK in the 1980s. “I can’t do anything in Turkey and the government was punishing people. At the time Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, so there’s no visa. But then I came with my family – my mum and dad and my brother the next year – as I had friends here, and we’ve stayed until now.”

Moving countries is a brave change, but recently the Kilnic family has had to face up to real challenges, not just the terrible car crash in 2011.

“My father, who was born in 1934* was walking on the pavement in Haringey in 2008 and a push bike hit him. He fell and hit his head. He spent one year in hospital but is now disabled.” This puts a big strain on the family – and even more so since his mother fell injuring her back. She is now partially disabled and still in pain, even after an MRI led to her having a vital operation in Turkey where his sister is a nurse.

Racks of fruit.  Spot mangoes, apples and melon all stocked by Arsenal Food & Wine on Gillespie Road.

Racks of fruit. Spot mangoes, apples and melon all stocked by Arsenal Food & Wine on Gillespie Road.

Daily life
“It’s been a very big headache,” Cemal says. And running a business can be too. He’s adamant that he only wishes to keep to the law. “I don’t want to sell alcohol to anyone under age 18. I want to protect my daughter, and to protect all our kids,” he tells me. But a recent council sting operation has caused him much concern. “Everything comes on me,” he says with a sigh. “But we’re humans, not the God. We can make mistakes,” he adds, clearly worrying about a possible upcoming fine or even court case.

Arsenal Food & Wine has plenty of loyal locals. One, Kelly, suggested I interviewed him. Others share gossip with him when TV people, who live locally, pop in. “I don’t know their names, but I see my customers looking at them or taking photos,” he says, happier now. “And some of my customers print out pictures to show me.”

Walking away from this interview I think about how difficult it must be to run a corner shop in Islington. The hours are so long; you need to be great at planning so your stock is right and doesn’t run out. You need to be fantastic at maths so neither you nor your customer are short-changed. And you need to be ever polite, and ever vigilant for shop-lifting or spotting potential under-age drinkers or smokers. It’s not all about staring at the TV and listening for the cash till kerching, that’s for sure. Just some of the reasons we all need to be friendly to the stars who run our local shops.

  • Arsenal Food & Wine, 92 Gillespie Road, N5.
  • Four Angels Café, 94 Gillespie Road, N5


English newspapers – a report from the Daily Mail (25/08/11) is here

Born in 1934 – possibly, see why above.

Bereavement – the national charity Road Peace http://www.roadpeace.org/ helps support families after traffic deaths. Locally there is CARIS Islington Bereavement Service, http://www.carisislington.org, on 020 7281 5200, or Email carisislington@yahoo.co.uk which “will visit anyone in Islington who has been bereaved, regardless of disability, gender, race, religion, or sexuality, or whether the bereavement was recent or a long time ago.” The service is free and confidential.

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right).

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy the most popular of all islingtonfacesblog posts, Nina Marcangelo from Alfredo’s Cafe on Essex Road which had 800 viewers in a week, 187 views on its 2nd day up and 97 facebook shares.


One Response to “Cemal Kilnic: shopkeeper”

  1. Nicolette September 7, 2013 at 11:25 am #


So, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: