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23 September 2016

Meet the MPs’ favourite restaurateur: “Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith will get free pudding if they make up“

The Kebab Awards founder plans to stand as an MP at the next election. 

By Julia Rampen

In a backstreet near the London Eye, unbeknownst to the tourists milling around, sits the best-connected man in politics. When Ibrahim Dogus first arrived in Britain in the early nineties with his Kurdish family, he was a teenage refugee who could barely speak English. 

Two decades on, his bustling restaurant Troia, where we are sitting, is responsible for sustaining the leaders of this country. And Dogus, as a successful entrepreneur, has their ear. 

“We get everybody,” Dogus said. “We get Tory people, the SNP, the Lib Dems – when they were larger in number they came here a lot. I haven’t seen Caroline Lucas, but Jean Lambert [the Green MEP for London] is a good friend.

And then there’s Labour. Dogus, a party member, is preparing to host Owen Smith’s thank you party. Jeremy Corbyn celebrated his victory in the very same place last year. Ed Balls held his book launch at another Dogus restaurant, Westminster Kitchen. The Miliband brothers both pop in, although not together. 

“Jeremy is the best regular,” Dogus said. “Stephen Kinnock is great. These two come every week.” 

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Dogus has in fact known Corbyn for two decades. They first met when, as a student in north London, he spoke at a National Union of Teachers meeting on Turkey and the Kurds.

“They didn’t tell me that the local MP was coming to speak,” Dogus remembered. “When they told me at the last minute I started to sweat. I was 16-17 years old and I was on a panel with Jeremy Corbyn.”

The embattled Labour leader is “a great guy”, he insists: “He is genuine. He is sincere. He is very open. 

“You can talk to him if you see him on the street. You don’t need to know him – you can say hi.”

Despite the bitter battle between Labour’s left and right taking place in the media sphere, Dogus is adamant that, when it comes to his restaurant at least, things remain civil. “They all seem to get on well,” he said.

He would like to see Corbyn and Smith sit down for a meal together. Referring to the restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown struck their infamous pact, he declared: “Troia could be the Granita  – in a good way for the party. 

“I think the two leadership candidates could come for a nice meal and start rebuilding the party as a united force.”

And if they can come to an arrangement? “I will give them a free dessert and a glass of ayran,” he pledged.

If Corbyn and Smith did book a table for two, Dogus has plenty of advice for Labour from the restaurant trade. “Teamwork is key. If there are lots of arguments, or secret plots by chefs or waiting staff, the restaurant is destined to fail. But if people work in harmony, they have a better chance. And it is good for customers – in this case the public – to have a united team.”

Consistency is also important: “We shouldn’t keep changing our ideas. And word of mouth is key. When you have a good idea, people will talk about it. This way the message will get across. It is the same with restaurants.”

Talking to Dogus, it doesn’t take long to realise his interest in politics is much deeper than simply his MP regulars. 

He has founded a thinktank, the Centre for Turkey Studies, made the British Kebab Awards a date in every parliamentarian’s diary, and chairs the group SMEs For Labour. He believes the UK should celebrate immigrant success more, and must be more aware of the impact of its foreign policy in Turkey and other areas of the Middle East. 

In the EU referendum, he backed Remain – his business relies on many European workers – and would like a say on the final deal. “I think the country deserves a second chance,” he told me. “When we know what is on the table, I think the Government should consider coming back for a second vote.

He quotes the Government, restaurant-style: “This is the end product. Would you like to taste it?”

Come 2020, it could be Dogus joining the MP diners at their table. “I am interested in standing,” he said. “Hopefully, at the next election, I will apply for a seat to run.” If he is anything as good at running a campaign as he is a restaurant, that’s something for Labour to cheer.


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