Two young sisters accomplished their dream of opening up their own café in New Cross last week, with a helping hand from family and friends. ELL headed down to find out more.
Sevjan Melissa, 28, and Akjen Havali, 35, have taken over their uncle’s old shop on Lewisham Way and re-opened it as ‘Birdie Num Nums’, named after the famous Peter Sellers scene from film ‘The Party’.
It is a name as unusual and unique as the café itself.
Serving local drinks and homemade food, including coffee from Hackney-based Climpson’s and Sons and tea from local company Birchall’s, Birdies opened its doors to the public last week.
Previously their uncle’s off licence, the premises have been in the family for decades. “It’s actually been in the family for 40 years” explains Melissa, “My Mum’s worked here, Dad’s worked here, my Gran, aunts, uncles, cousins, we all have.”
When their uncle was suddenly taken ill last year the family thought they’d have to sell up, but then the sisters different ideas: “We thought instead of let it go, my sister and I could come in and carry on the business.”
The girls have never run a cafe before but believe that it’s a job they are well suited to.
“Were sociable people and love this kind of thing,” explains Melissa. “Were both feeders: I’m a coffee person and Akjen’s a tea person. Our dad has a place up the road, the Goldsmith’s garden, it’s in the family to open somewhere like this, but it’s still kind of scary.”
With a small budget the sisters worked tirelessly for nine months, doing most of the refurbishment themselves.
“We were just hammering it till four or five in the morning and then getting up at seven, it’s been really mad,” she laughs. “We laid the floors and painted the walls, I had to learn how to wallpaper properly and all these things I had no idea how to do before.”
“The biggest compliment is when people come in and say it looks really nice” she adds, “because I think, actually thank you, because we did all of this.”
The surrounding community have been more than supportive of the sister’s efforts and eager to help out. “All these chairs we free, all the tables were free just from various people,” says Melissa. “The big light is a hand me down from my Dad’s old Turkish restaurant”.
Retaining some of their uncle’s personality in the café was very important to the sisters during the refit: “It was a family business and we all used to come in here so we wanted to carry a souvenir of that time into the new business,” explains Melissa. “A lot of his shop is still here, the top of the counter and the toilet doors are made of the same wood that was in here before when it was an off licence, and the stage is made from the shops old shelves, made by my sister’s husband who is a carpenter.”
While keeping the roots of the long-standing family business, Melissa and her sister are keen to bring their own ideas to the café.
“I love live music and that’s something we’d like to do here, we have the piano and we’ve built a little stage because we want to bring that in eventually,” Melissa says. “It will be very chilled and fitting with the café and I think New Cross is the perfect place to open that kind of night time social atmosphere.”
Running round in the newly opened cafe, the animated 28-year-old does not look like a woman who has just spent the last nine months building a business from the ground up.
“I’m just slightly overwhelmed and in shock that it’s actually happened,” she jokes. “After 9 months of constantly working at it and talking about it, it’s suddenly opened.”
With an alcohol licence and plans for live music and events on the way, it seems that far from relaxing now they’ve opened their doors, the sisters’ work is only just beginning.
Birdie Num Nums can be found on 11 Lewisham Way
Contact : 020 8692 7223.