At the end of the summer, DT interviewed Dunya Kalantery, director at Chicken Town, who was joined by Tracky Crombie, previously a producer at Create London, who had a hand in getting the project kick started.
Chicken Town are a not-for-profit social enterprise restaurant and aim to provide a healthier alternative to what’s already available at the chicken shops on the high street. Create incubates projects, offering advice and guidance, with a view that they eventually become independent and are embedded within the community they are in.
DT: How long have you been working at Chicken Town?
Dunya: I’ve been working at Chicken Town since we opened in November 2015. I started doing community engagement and looked at how to bring schools in to do projects. This January I became director and that’s now my role.
DT: What’s the concept behind Chicken Town?
Dunya: There was an initial project that spurred on the start of the restaurant. We looked at how to engage with the problems of childhood obesity but in a way that replaces food that kids love rather than chastising them.
Tracky: In 2013, Create set up a food truck that went to a school in Newham. We looked at the idea of an alternative to the fast food that was available. It’s really hard to sell food at a reduced price and do it properly and healthily without some sort of subsidy. That was where the idea of setting up the restaurant came from. In the evening it functions as a normal restaurant but it can subsidise or pay for the day time deals like the junior specials for under 18s.
Tottenham has the highest rate of obesity and one of the largest amounts of fried chicken shops, it became an obvious fit because it already had all of the things that we were trying to talk about. We approached the council and they suggested the space and then we applied to their OIF [Opportunity Investment Fund] loan so we could set things up.
DT: How do Create help to fund Chicken Town?
Tracky: It was largely the OIF loan from the council, we did a big Kick Starter campaign where we raised £50,000, a few other private donors and some Create funding as well.
DT: What makes Chicken Town healthier than other chicken shops?
Dunya: It starts with the quality of our chicken. We use herb fed free range chicken from the Yorkshire Dales which is some of the best quality chicken. Then it’s the cooking process that we use.
In a usual fried chicken shop their meat tends to be the lowest quality and it will be frozen. The way that chicken shops manage to sell things so cheaply is that they have nailed every single bit of the margin. In cooking from frozen, they fry their chicken from 20 to 25 minutes which can make it very dense with saturated fats. A lot of the flavours of the chicken don’t come from chicken, they come from the oil.
We first steam our chicken pieces, then marinate them in buttermilk, coat them in a high quality breadcrumb and then flash fry them for just three minutes. We use rapeseed oil which means that the chicken itself has a third of the saturated fats than in a regular chicken shop. It’s also higher in nutrition.
DT: How do you attract the kids to come to Chicken Town rather than buy the £3 chicken and chips from down the road?
Tracky: We offer a meal deal during the daytime for under 18s and students. We do a £2, £2.50 and a £3 meal.
Dunya: We’re also really popular with families with young children. We work with kids in schools, running workshops. We talk to them about the principles and explain to them the difference in our process to other chicken shops.
We host a young person’s music night and a film night. We want to make young people feel welcome and also see that our intention with the project is to create opportunities.
DT: One of your aims is to provide good quality employment for young people. How does the training programme work?
Dunya: We start someone off on simple tasks that support the way the kitchen is run. Some of that will be prep and some of that will be services. Through that process they gain more and more experience until the chef that they’re working with feels that they’re ready to move onto the next thing.
Tracky: Everyone that starts has basic training about the restaurant, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We make sure that all of the people working here understand the mission behind it and that starting here has an amount of training involved. There is also potential, and we’re setting things up for one of our longest standing chefs, to go and work with other restaurants and learn from other people. Similarly, chefs come in at other points, put a random item on the menu and teach the staff here to do that so they can add to their skill set.
DT: What do you most enjoy doing?
Dunya: Working with kids. Easily. It’s the best bit.
DT: Can you tell me a bit more about your creative programme with local schools?
Tracky: We mainly work with Earlsmead Primary School and Ferry Lane Primary School.
Dunya: It’s obviously a health and well being agenda but the process is to make those things as fun and broad ranging as possible. There’s space for kids with all kind of interests to engage. Some artistic sessions, some more food driven sessions and some getting your hands dirty sessions.
DT: You do your best to work with the existing community. In what way do you work with other local businesses?
Dunya: A lot of those relationships come through actual personal relationships and conversations… Being responsible to the community, being available to the community and having conversations. Tottenham is a really important place to be a part of.
Tracky: It’s also offering dinner to organisations, doing talks or workshops and offering cookery lessons.
DT: What’s your vision for Chicken Town’s future?
Dunya: There’s a number of things. For example, we’ve been working with some year fives since last year, and one really important thing is that they walk past and say hello every time. That seems like quite a small thing but it means they see a business and people that they feel like they know and are friendly to them. We’d like to see those relationships develop to a point that there’s both jobs and opportunities… Forming a two way relationship, finding out what the young people would like to see and do and then we can grow in that way.
We’re also trying to get to the place where we can have a food truck which means we can go to schools and festivals and take young people, that have been trainees or members of our workshops, and give them the opportunity to run a food truck and to have it as a music and food venue.
Giving more diverse opportunities for the young people that we work with, both inside Chicken Town and supporting them to do things on their own outside, creating a variety of training. There’s the kitchen but there’s also event programming and things like that. Just being a place that has good relationships with other businesses and the community around us, which I feel like the longer that we’re here, the more that will exist and develop.
Tracky: A great restaurant with brilliant food and a nice atmosphere.
Dunya: The neighbourhood restaurant that you can come and hang out in.
You can join Chicken Town on 18th November from 3pm to celebrate their second birthday. See flyer below.
Every Christmas Chicken Town hold a free Christmas day dinner for isolated and vulnerable people. This is supported by the Christmas bookings that they get in the run-up period, with secret santa presents donated by customers. https://www.chicken-town.co.uk/christmas/