Mayor of Lambeth, Ibrahim Dogus, came to the UK in 1994 speaking no English – Now he owns three restaurants, a community newspaper and a beer company, and runs the British Kebab Awards
ByRos Wynne JonesReal Britain columnist
- 20:08, 12 SEP 2019
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By Waterloo station is a cafe where I’ve just spent £8 on a cup of tea. Happily, this is not London’s latest rip-off price scandal.
It’s a pay-it-forward cafe where any extra you pay goes towards a hot drink or food for someone who can’t afford it.
‘With Love’ is the latest restaurant venture of the energetic Mayor of Lambeth, Ibrahim Dogus, who wanted to help the growing numbers of homeless people bedding down on the streets of Waterloo, and low-income families.
Today, 39-year-old Ibrahim owns three restaurants in the area, a community newspaper and a beer company, and runs the British Kebab Awards. But he came to the UK as a teenage asylum seeker in 1994 speaking no English – after his father sought asylum as a Kurdish dissident from Turkey.
For him, remembering those days, one of the most important things the cafe offers is free ice cream to families struggling in the school holidays.
“I’m the local Labour councillor for this ward, and I believe our Labour values require that we do something to help people,” he says.
“Whether that’s giving ice cream to kids whose parents can’t afford it or food and water to homeless people, we can’t just sit by until we get our time to end austerity in government.”
Ibrahim’s life story is full of extraordinary twists and turns.
He worked his way up from a pot-washer to restauranteur. Bullied for being different at school, he failed all his GCSEs but ended up at university.
When he was 22, as a community leader, he was shot after denouncing local drug gangs.
And he has a police commendation for risking his own life to keep his restaurant, Troia, open during the Westminster Bridge terror attack to give free food and water to the emergency services.
“At first they tried to arrest me for keeping open within the exclusion zone,” Ibrahim laughs. “They thought there might be a car bomb. But I said it’s crazy to close, you can use the facilities – we will give you free water and free food. The staff will go, my wife and myself will stay. Look, I’m born into a Kurdish family in Turkey, I’ve seen everything before.”
More recently, Ibrahim received threats from the far-right for printing Remain-supporting receipts at his restaurants. The end of the bills read: ‘ Brexit is Bad – Immigrants make Britain great!
They have also cooked and served your food today’, leading to abusive phone calls and fake bad reviews. All Ibrahim said was “I believe love will win over hate”.
Troia and his other restaurants, Westminster Kitchen and Cucina, are directly over the river from the Houses of Parliament where he dreams one day of sitting as an MP.
This week he announced he will run to be the Labour candidate among a crowded field in Vauxhall, where Kate Hoey is finally stepping down as MP.
Ibrahim’s loyalty to the Labour Party began as a 16-year-old pupil, when a teacher invited him to address an NUT meeting on Kurdish human rights. “I was so nervous, I thought who am I to teach my teachers?” he says. “I had never spoken in public before”.
The other speaker at the meeting reassured and supported him. “He was the local MP Jeremy Corbyn ,” Ibrahim says. “He was so kind. I started going out campaigning for him.”
The friendship remains strong enough that three years ago, vegetarian Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech at the British Kebab Awards celebrating his love of a kebab shop falafel.
As a young community activist, Ibrahim became the chairman of Britain’s largest Kurdish and Turkish centre in North London, at the age of 19. There he became increasingly vocal against the local drug gangs importing heroin from his native region.
In 2002, after he named local mafia figures, he was shot on the street in Haringey with a young friend, Giran, who was 14. “I’d been threatened by anonymous calls, and my car had been set on fire, but I refused to stop campaigning,” Ibrahim says.
That day he had been called as a community leader to a deteriorating situation in Haringey where gangs were fighting in the streets. He was 22 years old.
“I was walking towards the Kurdish Centre in Haringey with Giran, when I saw two men,” Ibrahim says. “One ordered the other to shoot us. When I woke up Giran was lying in the road.
He said: “They hit me with a stone”. I realised he had been shot. I didn’t realise I had been shot too because I was wearing black jeans and I couldn’t see the blood. Then I realised I’d been shot in the stomach”.
He smiles. “When the paramedics came I asked them not to cut off my jeans because they were my best jeans, but they cut them anyway.”
Ibrahim spent two weeks in intensive care at the Whittington Hospital but both he and Giran survived. “I still refused to stop,” he says. “I organised a big march, 20,000 people against the drug dealers. And I marched on crutches.
“After that show of public support, police carried out raids and arrested many, many people. Those mafia still threaten me from Turkey.”
At just 39, Ibrahim’s boundless espresso-fuelled energy shows no sign of stopping.
“I am a refugee from Syria,” says Hafiza Risour, 46, who serves me at With Love. “This cafe is a beautiful place.”
Barista Mohamad Alomare, 28, nods. “I’m also a Syrian refugee and I was homeless,” he says. “Working here means everything to me.”
Should Ibrahim fight his way to the other side of the river, the Tories will find themselves with a formidable opponent on their hands.