You can’t walk into Yummy’s café, whose founder grew up with the Kray Twins, in De Beauvoir without joining a heated discussion between owner Jason Elouz, his brother Darron, and whoever is at the counter buying their lunch. The pair are known for their salt beef bagels, their storytelling, and – unusually – their family connections to East End gangsters.
Today Jason is lamenting the downfall of independent businesses in the East End. “All the shops down there have closed down. It’s a ghost town!”
A customer moves the debate onto radicalisation in the area, reacting to something they saw on TV. “Those guys are just idiots. Same as the petty criminals or the gang members, just more dangerous,” says Jason.
The Birth of Yummy’s
Jason grew up in Barnet, via Israel, but has devoted most of his life since his early teens to the café set up by his father.
“This whole thing started when my dad turned up at Brick Lane market in 1985 and set up a coffee stall. That first Sunday when I visited the shop, it was like going on holiday.”
That holiday became permanent when, after a brief stint in the Israeli Army for national service at the age of 19, he returned to help build the family business, cooking breakfasts and charming customers.
It is clear from talking to Jason how important his father was in these formative years. “We did everything together. I used to sit on his lap in the car and change the gears,” he says. He tells the story of how, on the day he was born, his father’s boss at the time promised to pay for his bar mitzvah:
“There I was, 12 years later, in a new suit, wearing a gold chain, with a magnum of champagne in my left hand and a cigar in my right hand, flanked by Viv Anderson and Charlie Nicholas, who played for Arsenal at the time. I felt like the man.”
Yummy’s, then on Cheshire Street, became a staple of the Brick Lane community, with regulars including artists Gilbert and George, musician Ms Dynamite and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. But it’s the darker side of Hackney that Jason likes to talk about.
East End gangsters and The Kray Twins
A close family friend and supporter of the business was Tony Burns. “Loads of people claimed to be the Kray Twins’ right hand man, but this guy was the one who carried their briefcase,” Jason assures me, “He wasn’t so much into the violence. Well, not directly.”
Jason talks about the connection to the Krays with pride and suggests it gave his family status and protection if they needed it.
“One time Tony turned up at the café with a letter from the Krays in prison, wishing my dad well – he was ill at the time. It came printed on their personalised headed paper from prison!”
Moving to De Beauvoir
But anecdotes about the old days give way to sighs and silences when Jason is asked how him and Darron ended up in the leafy neighbourhood of De Beauvoir Town. “Me and my dad worked together on and off for 20 years until he dropped dead on me.” From then on, he says, “Things just took a turn for the worse.”
The brothers fell into money problems and family tensions rose, but the biggest problem was Cheshire Street itself. Violence in the area increased rapidly, with the café often being “caught up” between gangs and drug dealers.
“When people were sniffing glue and smoking weed it was manageable. But once they started smoking crack, people went crazy,” Jason explains, showing me a selection of YouTube videos of Cheshire Street, appearing to show drug deals outside the café and “pimps throwing prostitutes out of cars”.
But drugs and violence weren’t the only reasons why Yummy’s moved away from Cheshire Street. Jason says independent businesses can’t survive in the new East End, and the brothers claim to prefer their new life in the suburbs, serving local police officers and artists.
“When we started, there was a community routine: people would go to church then come to the market. But then Shoreditch got slaughtered and now we’re invisible.”