“I wonder if we can juice puna yams?”
Ever since Chris Abitol and Sienna Murdoch launched Ali Baba Juice in February 2014, they’ve been making waves on Rye Lane, Peckham.
Chris and Sienna began juicing in their Peckham kitchen as a weekend hobby – after experimenting with popular juice ingredients such as kale, spinach, apple and carrot, curiosity drove them into the adventurous world of puna yams, sweet potatoes, fennel and camomile.
“We launched on the worst weekend possible, Hurricane Charlie was hitting!” recalls Sienna. “I don’t know how we even thought this would be a good idea but you know what? People came.”
Their first weekend was riddled with problems, from their makeshift ladder setup, to miscalculating the amount of lemons needed for two days. But it didn’t shake things up too much.
[pullquote align=”right”]”We could’ve called ourselves Peckham Press.” – Sienna Murdoch[/pullquote]They were listed as one of the top ten juicers in London by the Evening Standard and the success of their business continues to grow.
Receiving tons of positive feedback via Twitter, they’ve been described by one customer online as “fresh juice in a hidden alleyway”.
They launched a year ago and have begun to bottle and distribute their product in other cafes and businesses across London.
Their juices are mostly priced at £3, and can also be packed with a punch of ginger. The set–up of their stand makes you feel like you have full creative control of your juicing experience.
At a time when it seems start–ups in urban areas are under fire, they haven’t found themselves on the receiving end of criticism regarding gentrification.
Their approach to the existing community they set up shop in is refreshing and they are keen to show their passion for the people they serve.
Chris expresses this as he reflects on the demographic of their customers: “We get the cool artist community, all the students, all the scaffolding guys and the guys that work in the butchers, we even get the elderly West Indian men asking us for the beetroot.”
What’s their secret?
Sienna revealed that when working with their juices, they look to “work towards a certain taste, like eating honey on toast and drinking Earl Grey at the same time” rather than push the stereotypical kale, spinach & apple blend.
By not aiming solely for popularity, and playing on their genuine passion for juice, they’ve been able to seamlessly blend into the community and garner success.
In the time we spent chatting, about ten people greeted Chris and Sienna. Farnham, a man who works at the neighbouring fruit stand, had presented Ali Baba’s juicer, Laura, with a plate of hot Kurdish food.
Mr. Ali, their namesake, even made an appearance in his Danny Devito-esque tracksuit. Mr. Ali is their landlord and rents the stretch of land under Peckham Rye from Network Rail, enabling Chris and Sienna to rent without the stresses of dealing with local authorities.
His charm extends through his tendency to wail single lyrics of Bob Marley, and his friendly relationship with all his tenants. So naturally when choosing a name, Ali Baba was their first and only choice.
[pullquote align=”right”]”We get the cool artist community, all the students, all the scaffolding guys and the guys that work in the butchers, we even get the elderly West Indian men asking us for the beetroot” Chris Abitol[/pullquote]”We could’ve called ourselves Peckham Press,” Sienna jokes, “but our name is a celebration of where we live”.
Her words couldn’t ring truer and immediately triggered a recollection of the various new shops that have graced the area, with nothing referencing to the areas that allow them to thrive besides the borough’s name.
Their ode to Mr. Ali is a sweet one, and one that has allowed them to transition into the community seamlessly.
The vibrant strip of concrete under Peckham Rye isn’t a business park, and other businesses aren’t their competitors. It’s a microcosm of beneficial change.
They seem to have figured out the balance to independent success and mindfulness. Ali Baba’s passionate, no frills set up is an inspiring example of how the old can thrive and blend with the new.
“We know when people don’t get us, because they suggest that we should knock down part of the stand and set up bistro tables, and serve pulled pork.” Chris reveals: “But those are the types of things that will ostracise people”.
With 2015 in full swing, more areas in London seem to be changing, the conversation of gentrification’s effects on communities is at the forefront of the media, and with a generation filled with self-starters and independent businesses, being conscious of the community should be a natural thought.
Feature image by by Shannei Morrison-Brown