Iftekar Hossain on setting up ‘best north London takeaway’ Joe and Za in Hoxton
PUBLISHED: 12:13 17 January 2018 | UPDATED: 14:28 17 January 2018
Iftekar Hossain tells Emma Bartholomew about his journey from Dubai and Bangladesh to running the Hoxton pizzeria that’s just been named north London’s ‘best takeaway’ in the British Takeaway Awards
What really touched Iftekar Hossain about his shop Joe and Za being named the “best takeaway in north London” was the reaction of his customers – some of whom even bought him flowers and chocolates.
“It made me feel customers aren’t only here for the pizzas, and that they love the local business,” said the 27-year-old, who opened the pizzeria in Murray Grove, Hoxton, three years ago. Its name refers to “coffee and pizza”.
“Nobody has time, especially in London, so in that sense if someone stops in your shop to say congratulations, that’s lovely.”
Iftekar had already reached the final of the British Takeaway Awards in 2015 for his sushi shop a few doors down, which closed two years ago when the lease ended. That was his first foray into the food business. He claims he was the first to bring the Katsu burger – with sushi rice replacing a bun – to London from New York
Iftekar graduated in 2012 with a degree in marketing but found it hard to secure a job.
“It might sound harsh or rude, but it was hard for an immigrant,” said Iftekar, from Bangladesh. “I could easily get a Tesco job with my graduation but this wasn’t something I wanted. One of my friends had good experience in the sushi restaurant trade. He said: ‘I’ll help you if you want to get into this.’ I thought: ‘If I have this support, let’s give it a try.’ It was a really brave and risky step.”
Iftekar was born in Dubai where his dad was a civil engineer, but when he was 12 his dad decided he had “had enough of the foreign life”, and wanted to move back to Bangladesh.
“It was to be honest a horrible experience,” said Iftekar. He missed many things about Dubai, from its social life and roads to the food.
“When you are in Dubai you have the opportunity to try and taste food of the world,” he said. “All I used to know about Bangladesh was that I am from Bangladesh, and I got introduced to the culture for the first time.
“I actually love it now and I’m proud of my country, but the very first time the food was totally different because of the curries and the spices. That was all you could get.”
He moved to London at 17, and it gave him the opportunity to go back to his old life “looking for nice places to eat”. “I’m a real foodie. Wherever I go the first thing I check out is food. When I left Dubai I lost it, and when I came here I got it back again.”