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Photos: Voices from behind the counter

Those working in our city’s food joints have unique insights into their local communities and their own stories to tell.

Photography

Those working in our city’s food joints have unique insights into local communities. Here are some of their stories.

Bravos, Stapleton Road


“When I walk through those doors, all my stress goes away.” says Kadina, laughing. The 33-year-old mother of three is talking about Bravos on Stapleton Road in Easton. There, her work environment is nothing but supportive. “If I am having a bad day – kids, school run, can’t make it to work – it’s not a problem. Which is amazing, ‘cos someone with my lifestyle, I need that.”

Spending some time in the shop, I start to notice the family feel. Kadina’s auntie, wearing a stupendous emerald green coat, stops by to have a quick chat. Bravos opened in the early 2000s, when Kadina tells me, “it was one of the few Caribbean restaurants in Bristol”.

Now there’s a friendly community culture on Stapleton Road, with the melting pot of Somali, Jamaican, Middle Eastern and Eastern European cultures tightly grouped into just a few 100 metres.

Back in her childhood, the sense of community and integration in the British culture was in its infancy. Kadina recalls, while living in Horfield at the age of nine, her excitement at seeing for the first time a black family coming onto the bus and nudging her brother saying “Oh my God, look! There’s more people like us!”

“As I grew up I saw literally in front of my eyes Stapleton Road becoming more and more like back home.”


 

Now, members of the community help each other out, says Kadian. She recalls, some time ago a distressed woman came to the shop with her four kids, the oldest being seven. “I knew one of the little girls but me and her mum never really spoke before that.” As a mother she was able to relate to the agitated woman’s story on many levels, and empathise with her. ”We ended up exchanging numbers and actually went out for lunch.”

After having moved to Southmead, two-and-a-half years ago to have her third child, Kadian noticed the unity of the Easton area. “Literally the amount of people that I haven’t seen for so many years, I have been able to reunite with them in the shop […] For me connecting and interacting with the customers is part of my nature.”

Argus Fish Bar, Bedminster


 

Between taking orders and frying up chips, James Marriott, the 66-year-old owner of Argus Fish Bar on West Street, takes me back in time.

The chippy opened in 1932 and James has worked there for more than 40 years. An elderly gentlemen quietly sitting by the windowsill, paper in hand, overhears our conversation and says he’s been coming to the chippy for just as long.

James paints a colourful picture of lively Bedminster back in the 50’s before its decline in the 70’s. There used to be more work, more money going around and more local shops. Kids could safely play on the streets and there was a tight community.

“See that shop there?” he says, pointing at second hand furniture shop Dear Old Thing over the road. “It always use to be in the meat industry. First as a butcher, for almost 100 years, then a funeral directory.”


 

As independent businesses were bought by chains, rents went up, pushing locals out of Bristol and pulling communities apart.

West Street may be a far cry from North Street round the corner, the frontier of gentrification south of the river, but James says family-owned shops, chippies and greasy spoons have made way for second-hand shops, fast food joints and flats. As independent businesses were bought by chains, rents went up, pushing locals out of Bristol and pulling communities apart.

“What happened here in Bedminster during the 70’s, with the gentrification, is what I reckon we are seeing now on Stokes Croft.”

Ray’s Pizza, Stokes Croft


 

Josh, a 21-year-old pizza chef who quit uni to earn money rather than wallow in debt, works 45 hours a week churning out 60 pizzas a night.

Ray’s Pizza is inside Crofters Rights, one of Stokes Croft’s pubs, formerly music venue The Croft which closed in 2013.

Eating his falafel salad, Josh says how people going past often try selling him stuff. From clippers to pillows and from Tesco steaks to high-quality coffee beans, the entrepreneurship of these salespeople seem to bring a human connection otherwise forgotten.

“I assume it’s stolen stuff,” he says. “Although it’s kinda alarming when stuff like that happens, it’s also heart warming.”


 

“Often I have conversation with customers. “There is a sense of community here that isn’t really that prevalent in other parts of Bristol… I wouldn’t not work here, I love it man, I absolutely love it.”

Little Jamaica, St Pauls


 

From walking barefoot to school on the dusty red roads of rural Jamaica to running a juice bar in St Pauls, Janet says: “Food is my dream, it’s my life.”

Now 54, she moved to the UK in 2002 and opened a hairdressers, but in 2014 renovated it into the white-walled restaurant that became Little Jamaica. The sounds of chicken sizzling and Jamaican music blasting in the background create the perfect homely atmosphere.

“I’ve always been cooking – since nine years of age,” Janet says. She learnt from her grandmother, who only ate what came from her garden. By contrast, she worries about the processed food her four kids eat. “Even my daughter is bigger than me, I just look at the food that she’s been eating, it’s all mass production.”

At Little Jamaica, there’s no menu. “I cook what I feel like. I want to be inspired by how I feel on the day and share it with people.”

With a sad smile, Janet remembers the vibrant St. Paul’s community where people used to wave and chat to each other, and neighbours introduced themselves.

Today, it’s different. When she recently offered to help a family who looked lost, they “turned around as if they saw a ghost”.

“I don’t understand why people move in this area if they don’t want to be part of the community.”

But for some locals it’s still their daily routine to order dinner here, and others stop by to chat to Janet, as she tends to her steaming pots.


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