#BrixtonBonus – Meet the Winner: Zoe

Zoe Adjonyoh, who runs Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen in POP Brixton, won the March draw of the Brixton Bonus. She joins the small crowd of winners, who are featured in our Winners Gallery – have a look! And make sure you get some Bonus tickets before the next draw on 29th April – who knows, it could be you next time! Better yet, set up a recurring entry to never miss a chance for a Brixton Grand – and get some extra goodies as a reward from us.

B£’s apprentice Dominic had a chat with Zoe about Brixton, her business, and how she plans on spending her B£1,000:

When did you first come to Brixton?

I used to come to Brixton a lot as a kid, when my Dad emigrated from Ghana he lived in Brixton with his Aunt at the time. I grew up in Woolwich but later on when I was a student, Brixton was a good destination to go out for parties.

So what are your favourite things to do in Brixton?

Before I started the business I liked going clubbing and dance nights too but now I don’t have much free time to socialize, so when I do I like to get a cocktail from Seven. I also go into the village when I can to have dinner at Fish Wings and Tings. I also just like walking around Brixton, when I go down into the market I just enjoy chatting to the people in the market.
Brixton is a very vibrant, fun, friendly place and that’s why people want to come here.

What major changes have you seen from when you first came to Brixton to now?

I think Brixton has changed substantially, it used to have a vibe in the 80s and 90s where there was a lot of tension; race politics was a big deal, not just in Brixton but in lots of places across London where there was a strong black community. Race relations with the police weren’t great and it was a period of change for how people addressed those issues, a lot of stuff happened in the 80s politically, not just in Brixton, that forced changes for the better. In my mind Brixton has always been very colourful and live and energetic and that is still true today, but we have seen a migration into Brixton from other parts of London and other parts of the UK: the demographic has changed slightly, there are more people here with more spending power.

Do you think that’s a good or a bad thing?

I think when it’s balanced it’s okay, it’s ok to have new money coming in, but you don’t want that to happen at the expense of the people already living here, which is difficult. What’s great about Brixton is how community minded it is, which is quite rare in London. It thinks of itself as a community, and even people that come into Brixton respect that community and that’s important. Brixton has become a destination for people to go out, eat good food, listen to good music and celebrate all of the colourful things that Brixton provides culturally.

There’s always going to be a downside to “progress” because unfortunately when a destination becomes a popular place to go to, the knock-on effect is that there are rent increases and value of land gets higher, and that prices out a lot of people that have been in Brixton potentially all their life. It links to what’s happening with Brixton Arches, businesses that have been there for 20, 30 years are under threat for financial reasons. And you would hope that some consideration is put into keeping cornerstones of the community alive rather than bulldozing everyone out just to get more money out of residents.

Is it progress? I don’t know, but it’s definitely development which is always going to have controversies surrounding it. What’s great about Pop Brixton is the idea that we are occupying land that was empty beforehand so we haven’t displaced any other businesses or anything else. I think every business in here, especially through the giveback scheme, is really concerned not to be disharmonious with the Brixton community. I in particular want to be part of it, it’s important for me and it’s important for my business. It’s the thing with displacing people in communities in favour of financial gain.

Where did your interest in cooking come from?

I’ve always been curious about food, I’ve always loved eating food and cooking for people and particularly Ghanaian food. My Dad used to come home with traditional Ghanaian ingredients that were mysterious and exotic and I was intrigued and wanted to know more about it and wanted to know how to cook it. It was also a strong link for me back to those cultural roots in Ghana because we didn’t have any Ghanaian relatives in London. Both my parents are immigrants so we were quite a small family and didn’t have any extended family to speak of. We didn’t have access directly to that cultural heritage, so the food was a way in and something that I connected with and it’s just grown and grown.

When did you first decide you wanted to open a restaurant?

I’ve been doing Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen since 2011, I started doing supper clubs, event catering and street food, and we still do all those things. Pop Brixton is our first proper restaurant space.

Did you always plan to open a restaurant from a young age?

No, I never had an ambition to become a cook or a restaurateur or anything like that. It’s been a peculiar journey but an exciting and interesting one. It’s been a very organic process I didn’t decide one day I wanted to do – this just kind of kept happening.

So how did you get into it?

It started one day when I set up a little stall outside my house selling a dish which is basically peanut butter stew or soup which is a Ghanaian dish. I used to cook it a lot for my friends, it’s one of my favourite foods that I ate growing up. So one day when there was a festival going on in my neighbourhood I thought I might be able to make some money and it proved very popular and created a nice social gathering outside my house. People kept coming back and then wanted me to do it again, so the following year I turned my flat into a restaurant, I put in lots of tables and chairs and African fabrics and it had a real restaurant atmosphere. I called it Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen and we sold out every day for three days and were constantly full, people were trying to book and come back but I could not continue like that because it was my living room. I took down people’s email address so that next time, a few months later, I could notify people. From word of mouth it became more frequent and got some press, and then from there I started to be hired for catering and asked to residencies.

What would you say your business offers?

It offers tasty Ghanaian food at affordable prices in a restaurant setting. Our whole concept is about bringing food from Ghana and making it accessible; making as many people as we can possibly reach aware of how great the Ghanaian food and ingredients are, and just about celebrating food culture from Ghana. We do everything we can to support and raise the profile of food from Africa generally and specifically Ghana.

Where did the interest in the Brixton Pound come from and why did you accept it?

When I first got here I was very keen to take the Brixton Pound because I think it’s a great idea, it’s a great way of keeping money in the local economy and encouraging people to shop local, which is something that aligns with my ethos of how I want my business to function and run, and because it was so easily ready and available to sign up I decided to do it!

Do you have any other future plans or projects planned?

I’ve got quite a lot of different projects in the pipeline right now; we have a cookbook coming out in April next year, I’m opening a second space hopefully by the end of the year outside of Brixton. Possibly launch our own brand of sauces and ready meals so people can eat our stuff at home easily. The idea behind opening it here was to test what we do in a restaurant setting and see if it will be a viable business with a view to opening a full restaurant in the next year or two. We are looking at a couple of potential sites for the future so hopefully by next year I’ll be able to open a second space that probably has at least 20 or 30 covers.

What will you do with your Brixton Bonus winnings?

I haven’t decided yet, but I’m sure at some point it will be spent on a staff night out at a local bar or restaurant, and I may also use it to give the team bonuses.