Ali Jon Donne: The fire, the worst time in my life

My name is Ali. I’m 40 years old. It was seven years ago when I came to this fish market and bought this cafe. Now I carry on this business. I come from Turkey.  Before I came to the cafe, 20 years ago, I started at the fruit market, after I worked there, I came here. 

I like everything here. People work six, seven days. We work five days and it’s a short time. 

Here we have more time to enjoy, it’s like a big family there. I like my cafe of course, I’m always comfortable there. I have got a couple of friends there because we work together. And we enjoy it, that’s why I like it here.

It’s like a big family here.

I like working together with my colleagues. One came 17 years before and he’s carrying on until today. One friend, he’s from my village. I was so happy as well because we helped each other. We’ve got one more guy, he’s from India. He was a good person. That’s why I like their work. 

Because I did too much business before. I was not this happy. I worked at the cafe, the pizza restaurant and the shop. But this one just was best, I think. First job, I worked in the shop for a long time as it’s open seven days and minimum 15 or 16 hours a day. Before, I worked at a pizza restaurant which was open seven days and I started at 9 o’clock in the morning and finished at 10 o’clock at night.

When I work at the cafe, it’s not like this. I start at 1, 2 o’clock, finish at 9 o’clock in the morning. I have got more time and more rest. It’s nice here. 

I’ve got a lot of best friends here.

I’ve got a lot of best friends here, and now you. Sometimes, my girlfriend helps me and I’ve got brothers who help  me. I like it here because it’s a short working day.

It’s different from normal people. For you, you eat breakfast  in the morning but for us, it’s like nighttime. The morning is like the night time. My body is not like a normal person’s for 20 years, I’ve been working at night time. Because my shifts are different. At 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning, I want to sleep in bed. But this time, for others, they need to wake up. How you make dinner in the night time, I make dinner in morning time. In the morning, you can’t dream but I can dream because my body is so different. 

The fire was a big thing and it really hurt.

I’ve got too many good memories here. The fire was a big thing. I closed my shop. I left in the morning at nearly 10 o’clock. But at 7 o’clock, someone called me, the building manager called and told me to quickly come to the shop. There was a fire. I went to the shop and never seen anything like it before.

I lost my father nearly 20 years ago and that really hurt. This was the second time I was hurt so much as I watched my shop burn, it was that bad. If somebody told me you lost £200,000 cash, for me, I wouldn’t be so worried, but on that day, when I came to my shop and saw it burning, I was going to cry. Because it’s my business, I carry it on. For a couple of weeks or so, it was so bad. I hope this never happens to other people.

Losing money is one thing but losing your own shop is worse. Like I said, losing £200,000 or £300,000 isn’t much but seeing the shop burn, it’s like seeing someone you love die. Because I put through this, I was crying. Even thinking about it now makes me want to cry. It was so bad. Now that I’ve fixed it, it’s alright now.

Before, the uniform was white when the shop first opened. I wanted to change to another colour and make it look new like the shop. Some of the pictures burned so I replaced them, especially the damaged ones.

I don’t want to move to Dagenham.

I don’t want to move to Dagenham because I like it here. The other side is too new, we’ve already established our shop here and we don’t know if it’s going to be good. It’s a risk. That’s why some people asked me before I said I wanted to stay here because it’s not far from my home as well. I know everything from there because old friends, everybody like their friends, moving to the other side is too different. We will see, it might not move, I hope it doesn’t move.  

A big change was the car park. Before, the car parking was free. More people came when it was free, but now because the car park charges money, there are less people. For us, it was good before. Now it’s a maximum of 2 hours parking, even with the charges.

When I see my regular customers coming. I know what he wants to eat. When I see them in front of the shop, I know what to make. One Greek customer always brings wine. People from other countries bring other alcohol. Also during holidays, they bring presents for me and my brother.