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Balham family-run business celebrates 25 years trading!

Balham family-run business celebrates 25 years trading!

| by Editor | Posted in Balham News, Business & Finance, Lifestyle
Zak and father, Ahmed, who first opened Laila’s Cafe back in 1994!

Countless businesses have come and gone in SW12 since 1994, but the food and atmosphere served up by the Abdallah family has very much stood the test of time, as they celebrate 25 years of trading in Balham!

HOB café on Balham High Road is now run by young brothers Zak and Sham, yet it was their father Ahmed who blazed a trail back in the early 1990’s when he first opened Laila’s at a time when there were few other cafes around!

Born in Giza, Egypt, Ahmed arrived in London in September 1973. Having visited many times in his work for an Egyptian TV company in his early career, he got to know the city well and decided that this was the place for him. With a talent and passion for food passed down by his own father, Ahmed then flourished in the London catering industry where he worked as head chef and kitchen manager in some of the biggest restaurants and hotels – a role where he met his wife Kenza, a hotel catering manager.

As he was considering his path towards retirement, Ahmed decided that running his own small café was the way to go! He liked Balham and there was very little competition here at the time, so he set out to look for a shop, quickly finding one on Bedford Hill where he opened Laila’s Café (named after his young daughter) in 1994.

With its traditional English menu, the café was a success. However, the aim was to always to have something on the main road, so when the premises at 113 Balham High Road became vacant in 1999, Ahmed snapped it up. By then, daughter Laila had had enough of her name up in lights (“everyone at school knew who she was – she was getting too famous!”, says Zak) and so it was time for a change of name. Many customers as well as his sons’ friends referred to him as “Mr A” and so it became Mr A’s Brasserie!

Zak & Sham started working in the café in their early teens. “We started by washing dishes and worked our way up!”, says Zak. It was great fun working in the café growing up and also built my confidence. I used to be very shy, but as I started interacting with customers and taking orders, it really helped. Over the years, my brother and I gradually took on more responsibility and once I realised that I wasn’t going to make it as a footballer, well, taking over from Dad was the natural thing to do! Our grandfather, father and two Uncles are all chefs and our Mum was a catering manager, so I guess it was destiny. Food is in our blood!”


Brothers, Zak & Sham, who now run HOB Cafe at 113 Balham High Road!


With Ahmed now finally enjoying his retirement and the next generation of the family firmly at the helm, the cafe rebranded as HOB at the beginning of last year. “The rebrand, with HOB standing for Heart of Balham, was really our own nod to how long we’ve been here and how well we’ve done”, says Zak.

Having started life at Laila’s very much with a traditional English cafe menu, you'll now find food inspired by their family heritage and love of flavours and spices. Zak told us: “As times have changed, people have started to eat differently. They’re more health conscious, travel more, their palates change. The competition in Balham has also grown enormously over the past few years with so many cafes opening, so to stand out we decided to play on our background. We still serve traditional breakfasts, brunches and lunches, but with our own Mediterranean, Middle East and North African twists.”


Shakshuka, Chicken Wrap, Bocadillo Merguez and a Vegetarian Lebanese Breakfast: a small selection of the dishes you’ll find on the menu at HOB.


But what’s it like to have been involved in the catering business for so long? “It is hard”, Zak tells us. ‘But it’s also a fun environment in which to work. It’s great to be able to interact with different people every day and there’s often a good atmosphere in here – a real sense of community. Sometimes you see people on different tables talking with each other – often about the football!”

“Yes, it’s certainly not easy running a café”, says Ahmed. “When I first started out I thought brilliant, running my own business, I can hire some great staff, come and go when I like, it’ll be straightforward. No! It’s 7 days a week and the pressure is always on. It’s a fight every single day to make sure the food is good, the place looks nice, keeping our regular customers happy and making sure new customers come back.”

But finally, onto the main love of their life and the all-important question........will Liverpool FC win the league this season? “Not confident”, says Ahmed. “Very confident!”, says Zak!

HOB is located at 113 Balham High Road, open every day of the week. You can check out their website and follow HOB on Instagram and Facebook. HOB also take orders via Deliveroo and Uber Eats.

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