Yes, boss? At two in the morning in Freshers’ Week, these can be the most reassuring words in the world. You may have lost your friends. You may have ‘lost’ all your money. And if you’ve been to Ziggy’s, you will have definitely lost your dignity.
But you’re leaning against a gleaming metal work surface, staring at a menu board that refuses to stop rotating and you’re trying to explain that you want an Al Funghi pizza without mushrooms.
Congratulations, you’ve become a stereotypical student. But how easy is it to stereotype our favourite post-lash haunt – the takeaway? And what do the sleep deprived men who have to shovel pizza after pizza think of us, the drunken rabble that we can be?
If you’re hearing the words “yes, boss”, you’re in Efes, the takeaway that‘s short on possessive apostrophes but literally giving away free cans of Pepsi.
If you were a student 15 years ago, you would have found a small pizza takeaway that closed well before York’s clubs. Then from the sunny climes of Istanbul in Turkey came Mr Efe Aktaf, his brother Naci, and their cousins Emre and Mete, the latter of whom now manages Efes. Mr Efe has worked in takeaways his entire life, and is now providing for himself, his wife and his two daughters, aged five and ten.
We try to close and people want to get in for food. They get angry, banging on the windows, shouting abuse
After 15 years of topping pizzas and wrapping kebabs together, Mete claims the family unit still get on perfectly fine, although Mr Efe admits it can be hard not seeing his children. “It’s difficult but I try to make time – wake up early or go to be bed later – so I can have an hour to just play and spend time with them.”
But Mr Efes is not immune from nagging: “Sometimes my wife gets annoyed at me – why are you working every day? Why are you working every day? I’m trying to run a business!”
But what does Mete, manager of the self-proclaimed “number one student takeaway in York”, think of you when you sway towards his counter at three in the morning?
“We know students like to party, and we understand this. They go out, get drunk, enjoy themselves, get some food, then go home and go to bed”. Then be sick, miss lecture and panic-library-cram come essay or exam time, but I‘m not going to tell Mr Efes about that.
The mentioning of partying leads Mr Efes to ask, “Where is Brendon? I never see Brendon anymore,” – Brendon being a mutual friend who proudly displays an Efe’s polo-shirt on his wall.
The partying stamina of students is just one of the many abilities that impress Fatih and Mehmet of York’s Only Yummy Chicken.
“How do you do it?” Mehmet, Yummy Chicken’s manager, asks me. “How do you party, party, party and then work the next day?” If the student is like me, I say, they sometimes miss out on whole ‘next day’ thing.
“That makes sense. Students are the best part of our job,” Mehmet says.
We’re witty and charming at three in the morning? Really?
“Students are always very friendly. And they are educated. Some people don’t want to know anything about us, or anything, really.”
Educated we may be, but we can still be cheeky. “Cheeky, cheeky,” Fatih says as he takes several pizzas out of Yummy Chicken’s oven.
“Students are always looking for the cheap way,” Mehmet says. “Give it for free, give it for free! Any discount? Any discount?” Mehmet shrugs. “But we understand, and we like the students, because if there’s no students, there’s no business. They’re drunk, I can understand.”
Fatih finishes removing the pizzas and laughs: “One student came in and bought a can of Sprite and asked for student discount. They’re 70p! I told him no. He was just drunk and cheeky.”
At Efes, Mete agrees. “Students are fun people. We know people’s names, we know the jokers, we know who likes to have a laugh. People always want a t-shirt, they’re always begging, I’ll pay for it, I’ll pay for it! And we’re like, sure, it’s just a t-shirt.”
Unfortunately, some students arrive at Efes in no fit state for clothes shopping. “Some students order their food and then they forget,” Mete says. “Sometimes they just walk off. Sometimes they come in and order a burger. Then we will have a pizza cooked for someone else, and the burger guy will say, ‘yes that’s mine, thank you Mr Efe’.
Sometimes we say, ‘No, you ordered a burger, remember?’ Other times they get the pizza and the person who ordered the pizza gets very confused when we give him a burger. We try our best, but we can get very busy and students can be very drunk.”
Unfortunately, not everyone who visits York’s takeaways are so understanding of students or takeaway staff. Mehmet explains that locals often gripe about the student nights at Gallery. “If people come from Gallery, and we say, ‘Where you been guys?’, sometimes they say, ‘Gallery, but it was shit, it was full of students.’”
But Mehmet and Fatih have to bear the brunt of locals’ drunken anger as well. “One time, someone was looking at the board and we said, ‘What would you like?’ and he said he was okay, then five minutes later we asked him what he wanted, and he said he was okay but he was still looking at the board. Then ten minutes later he came up to us and said, ‘Where‘s my fucking food?!’”
Mehmet sighs and says, “Sometimes the local people don’t like us. They come in and have a go about foreign people, and we are foreign people!” Yet Mehmet and Fatih are proud of where they live. “We are York people too,” they tell me. Mr Efes has also worked hard to become a British citizen, and he has no interest in ever returning to Istanbul. “I have no life in Turkey,” he says, “I’d have to start from zero.”
Students are fun people. We know people’s names, we know the jokers…people always want a t-shirt. They’re always begging ‘I’ll pay for it, I’ll pay for it’
Casual racism is a subject that Mete has no time for. “We do get some really nasty calls,” Mete admits. But he doesn’t dwell on their content, just the type of character who calls up a takeaway to racially abuse the staff.
“It’s just people who are sad and have nothing to do. If one of the other guys here answer the phone, they like to wind the caller up. If I answer it, I just say, ‘Stop being sad and do something else with your life.’”
Are calls like this common? “Maybe once or twice a week,” Mete says in matter-of-fact tone.
Yet not every takeaway has to deal with nasty calls. Kaja, manager of Chubbies on Hull Road, says his takeaway hardly ever has any prank calls. Kaja puts this down to his reputation in the local area. “People know me, families know me,” he explains.
For over 20 years, Kaja has worked on a takeaway on Hull Road (his brothers for 15 years, then six years managing Chubbies), and now he works mostly alone. “Five days a week I work here alone. My daughter works here weekends, and my girlfriend helps out sometimes, but I can manage myself.” Rather than being lonely, Kaja enjoys talking to families that come to his restaurant, watching the kids muck about, the dads worrying they’ll spend too much or get the order wrong.
But why do they choose Kaja instead of the other takeaways on Hull Road? “People know me after 20 years,” Kaja says.
In a city with over 70 takeaways, reputation is everything. Yet in recent years, small takeaways and kebab shops have become synonymous with binge culture. More specifically, violent binge culture.
In 2007, The Independent labelled “the fight outside the kebab shop” a “minor British institution”. Councils seems to agree there is a correlation between kebab shops and fights, with most councils fining “violent takeaways” up to £20,000.
Kaja claims to have never seen any violence outside his takeaway. Mete finds the stereotype totally unfair: “With takeaways, we don’t sell alcohol, its about food. Families come here with their kids. Touch wood, we’ve never had any violence in here … another part of town maybe.” Mr Efes recalls one incident when a student was mugged and beaten with a hammer less than 20 metres from his shop.
“We could hear some trouble and came out and brought the student into the shop to make sure he was okay.” But there has never been any violence with customers inside or just outside the shop, Mete is keen to point out.
But in another part of town, the Yummy Chicken’s staff are more resigned to the idea of takeaway violence. “Sometimes we talk and sort it out,” Mehmet says, “Sometimes we have to call the police, sometimes we do some fighting!”
He gives me a cheeky wink and laughs. Any scars? “Not yet,” Fatih says. “But we know what drunk people are like,” Mehmet says. “We have people come back the next day and say sorry because their friend told them they did something bad or they said something nasty.”
Instead of loving binge culture, Mehmet hates it. He understands his business relies on his customers having a few drinks, but for him, it doesn’t matter if they leave a club at midnight or three. “A couple of years they changed the clubs’ opening hours,” he explains.
“Now sometimes they stay open when he have to close. We try to close and people want to get in for food. And we can’t let them in and they get angry, banging on the windows, shouting abuse. It’s bad for business.”
Adam at Viking Kitchen has another reason for hating clubs’ late closing times. “The long hours can kill you some nights. You have to be friendly to people, so they want to come back, but it can be really hard if you’re very tired.”
Considering how late most takeaways stay open, it is easy to understand why Adam thinks “there is nothing fun about working in a takeaway”. After hearing this, I don’t have the heart to tell him ‘Goodrick‘, ‘Alcuim’ and ‘Vanburg’ colleges exist only on his menu board.
But at the end of the night, whilst you’re still trying to decide if you want ham and pineapple, the takeaway just wants to see you leave happy.
During the summer, when we go home, Efes sometimes has to cut its losses and shut up shop.
Yet they’ll wind up back behind the same workbench, at one in the morning, still smiling, serving the same food to students too drunk to remember what they ordered.
Photo credits: Jason Lozier