Subhash & Urvashi Patel: from Five Boys Natural Health Store

3 Feb

Everyone has a story. Five Boys – the Natural Health Store – at Highbury Barn has a vast range of household, healing and healthy products. Years ago it was a garment making factory – but for the past 25 years it’s been a place you can find saffron, black treacle and pink peppercorns, and if it’s not in stock, owner Subhash Patel – or his wife Urvashi – will find it for you. As regulars know it’s also a place to go to get advice about alternative remedies and even tasty recipes (see below for Urvashi’s savoury cabbage bake). Interview by Nicola Baird.

Urvashi and Subhash Patel set up Five Boys in October 1989 - 25 years ago.

Husband and wife team Subhash (right) and Urvashi (left) Patel opened Five Boys natural health store in October 1989. Somehow they forgot to celebrate the 25th anniversary in 2014.

Subhash Patel was 22, and had just finished his schooling when he came to London from India to join up with his family who had been forced out of Uganda in 1972*. Many Asian families arrived in the UK that year. It was a big change for Subhash who though born in Kitale, Kenya (“it had a better hospital”) had spent the first 11 years of his life in Uganda where his parents ran a shop in tiny Moroto.

Subhash Patel

Subhash Patel

“It was a village in a mountain valley. We ran a general store where you can buy everything – maize flour, sugar, shoes, clothes, umbrellas, jambe (ploughs) and canned meat. The house was made of corrugated iron and we had no electricity or running water. The fridge was was run by paraffin…” remembers Subhash behind the till of the super-efficient Five Boys which he’s run for the past 25 years. In the background there’s a gentle hum from a fridge – piled with Udo’s oils, soups, soya-, goat- and milk- yoghurts – that takes up nearly half the wall of what used to be a garment factory workshop. He’s not really a country boy though – once he was old enough for school he stayed with his uncle at Kangole, a bigger place 20km away, only going to the village for holidays.

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Once Subhash was 11 he went to high school in India – the family village is Isnav – finishing when he was 22. By the end he was fluent in Gujarati, Hindi, Swahili and English although he admits that he wasn’t the best-behaved student – “I’d play or go to the cinema in the city.” The plan had been for him to go back to Uganda, but due to the Idi Amin developments Subhash’s father organised for him to join his family – first in a camp, then Birmingham.

Five Boys is also known as the Natural Health Store. It's a Highbury Barn treasure!

Five Boys is also known as the Natural Health Store. It’s a Highbury Barn treasure!

Eventually the Patels settled in Harrow but Subhash and his wife Urvashi have become a Highbury Barn institution as a result of running Five Boys. They are in N5 for a long time six days a week – leaving home at 7.30am and not closing up their store until 8pm.

Subhash’s first experience of trading in Highbury Barn was the Londis he ran for 10 years, now the chicken shop on Chris Godfrey the butcher’s side of the road. Back then the tarmac area between Mrs Lovell’s the Greengrocer and the Highbury Barn pub was still a road where Subhash used to park his van.

Here are the Five Boys behind Five Boys. L-R Hitesh, Raju, Subhash, Pramod and Raswin Patel. Subhash Patel: “When we sold Londis at Highbury Barn we bought a newsagent in North End Road, Olympia – that shop was called Four Boys, so when we registered our new business we went one better, from Four to Five Boys. Asian families like working together.”

Here are the Five Boys behind Five Boys. L-R Raswin, Raju, Subhash, Pramod and Hitesh Patel. Subhash Patel: “When we sold Londis at Highbury Barn we bought a newsagent in North End Road, Olympia – that shop was called Four Boys, so when we registered our new business we went one better, from Four to Five Boys. Asian families like working together.”

Places Subhash Patel likes in Islington

  • 20150202_142001I use the shops in Highbury Barn. I often go to the pharmacy, the greengrocer (Mrs Lovells’) and the chip shop. We used to cook lunch here but at the moment the ladies are all babysitting – my son has married and so we have a grandson, Shriyan, who is three, and a newborn boy who arrived in January.
  • If I had time I’d go to the pub – I would like to have a pint there!
  • I support Arsenal but I haven’t been to a game at Highbury or the Emirates. I like cricket too. When I was 25 a relative and I paid £3 a ticket to see England and India playing at Lords. We enjoyed it so much.

Getting to know you
Super-calm Urvashi also grew up in Africa, but had a more peaceful experience in Zambia. “It was different, more like Britain,” she says. Indeed they might never have met if it wasn’t for the tradition of arranged marriages.

She was the first girl I saw,” says Subhash happily. “Most people have just half an hour for their first interview but we talked for two hours.” Urvashi laughs: “He liked the way I spoke. We talked about Africa and studying and London. But I didn’t say yes. He waited and waited until I said yes.”

The pair married in India and then moved to London. At first Urvashi, who has a BA in commerce and accounting, worked for Boots the Chemist and at a GP’s surgery in Harrow. Gradually the couple developed their dream of opening a different type of pharmacy at Highbury Barn. To ensure the success of the plan Urvashi spent many hours studying natural remedies each evening. “Subhash made sure he was up to speed too, adding with a grin, “I learnt with my wife, slowly”.

View from the till of Five Boys at Highbury Barn. It's got everything.

View from the till of Five Boys at Highbury Barn. Once a garment factory, now it’s a place where you can find the tricky things your recipe demands.

“We bought this big place [Five Boys] as an investment. Back then it was empty and had been a clothes factory. The front was the show room and from the pillar by the central freezer the rest was used for making garments. There was even a big dress-cutting table. It took five years to update the shop. After five years we got the benefit,” adds Subhash.

And of course so did anyone who uses Highbury Barn. During the course of this short interview there were around 30 customers through the doors buying all sorts – ibuprofen, camomile tea, puy lentils, organic cotton balls, hair dye, Bombay mix, cleaning products and baby food.

Tips from Five Boys on how to stay healthy

  • Camomile tea is calming. You can drink as much as you like. Then put the used tea bags in the fridge until they are cold and put them on your eye lids to help you relax.
  • When making up hair dye you can use coffee (instant or real) instead of water. It gives a better shine and as coffee is a stimulant helps your hair grow too.
  • Subhash: “I use diluted cider vinegar all the time, and echinea for the winter. I also like to take a multi-vitamin. The shop is big so I go for long walks up and down to the store room!”
  • Urvashi: “I used to share my recipes with customers. Everyone said I should write a book, but I don’t have time. But to keep healthy, stay smiling; laugh a lot – it’s the best medicine and look positive. Stay away from negative people – I’m not rude but I’ll move away gently and nicely.”

Urvashi adds that part of the shop’s success is the customers who chose to use them. “They like to buy from local shops and are very friendly,” she says. And of course that loyalty is repaid – not just by having a fantastic local store with all sorts of unusual and useful supplies, but also because Subhash donates to the raffles and fetes of nearby local schools, especially the schools where his customers have sent their children.

Thank you Subhash, Urvashi – and the rest of your family – for providing shoppers with such an amazing range of stock at Highbury Barn. It’s not just that you can be counted on to have what shoppers are looking for, it’s also that you are consistently kind to your customers and able to offer reassurance and advice. It certainly made nursing my two daughters through childhood illnesses far less scary. And whether they were sick or well Five Boys was the one stop shop to get a huge range of healthy options from organic cereals to vitamin pills. That’s why locals love it!

  • Five Boys is at 17 Highbury Park, N5. Tel: 020 7359 3623

TRY URVASHI PATEL’S OWN RECIPE FOR
SAVOURY CABBAGE BAKE – ondhwo

INGREDIENTS (for 5-6 people)
1 cup rice

¼ cup split touar daal (split pigeon peas)

¼ cup mung daal (or red lentils)

1 tablespoon coarse semolina

½ shredded cabbage

2 shredded carrots

1 ½ tablespoon fresh chillies.ginger, garlic paste (according to taste)

1-1½ teaspoon salt (according to taste)

1 ½ teaspoon sugar or jiggery

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

3 teaspoons Eno (similar to bicarbonate of soda – note Eno is sold at Five Boys)

4-5 tablespoon yogurt

6 tablespoon cooking oil

FOR THE TARKA
3-4 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 tablespoon black mustard seeds

1 tablespoon fenugreek

METHOD

  • Soak rice and daals for 8-10 hours. Wash and grind coarsely in grinder. Add water while grinding and make consistency like thick soup. Add yogurt, pastes, black pepper, salt, sugar, turmeric, cabbage and carrots. Mix for five minutes
  • Add 3 teaspoon Eno and mix gently.
  • In a saucepan add 3 tablespoon oil. When hot add mustard seeds. When it starts popping add sesame seeds. Put a lid on while it’s popping. Remove from stove.
  • In a baking tray (size about 11 x 9 x 2 inches) put two tablespoons oil and grease it around. Pour the mixture into the tin and then pour the tarka on the top. Make sure the tarka goes in all four corners.
  • Preheat oven at 220C for 15 minutes.
  • Put the tray in and bake for 10 minutes. Then turn oven to 170C and bake for 45 minutes. Rest for 15 minutes and cut in the tray in squares. Can be eaten on its own with chai, coffee or just milk, Can be eaten hot or cold.
  • Bon appetit!

 

Words*
Idi Amin was president of Uganda from 1971-1979. He took power in a military coup. On 4 August 1972 Amin ordered the expulsion of the 60,000 Asians who were not Ugandan citizens (many held British passports). Not long after the edict was revised to include all 80,000 Asians. Around 30,000 emigrated to the UK. The number of people killed as a result of Amin’s regime – many from ethnic persecution – ranges between 100,000-500,000. Amin died in 2003 in Saudi Arabia.

 

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

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

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

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

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4 Responses to “Subhash & Urvashi Patel: from Five Boys Natural Health Store”

  1. Nicolette February 3, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    A wonderful shop, always full of surprising things. So interesting to hear the story behind it. Long may Five Boys thrive.

    • nicola baird blogs February 3, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

      Thanks for commenting Nicolette. Glad you like their shop – I like the way they offer a holistic approach to health and eating and then also have practical things like shampoo and scrubbing brushes. Nicola

  2. nicolabairdgreen February 6, 2015 at 9:32 am #

    From Facebook:
    Caroline: One of my favourite ever shops – can get every single cooking ingredient and obscure items for cleaning up afterwards with more besides.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 15 places in Islington to repair, spring clean, hack or get creative | Islington Faces Blog - February 25, 2015

    […] Here’s a recent interview with Subhash & Urvashi Patel from the Natural Health Store/Five Boys at Highbury Barn. […]

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