Its 8 o’ clock on a Monday evening when I get the opportunity to speak to possibly one of the most prolific, important, and influential figures to the Oxford student community – Hassan Elouhabi, the face of Hassan’s kebab van on Broad Street. Despite being a mobile catering business, his van is so prestigious it has been gifted a permanent spot on google maps. He gives me 20 minutes of his time away from the heat of the grill to talk.
In conversation, he reveals Hassan’s has been around for the same amount of time that most of the students he serves have been alive.
“I’ve been just in Broad Street since 1995, just in this road” he explains. “I been doing it at home, my family are doing at home, so I just go for it.” Previous to this, he worked in a French bakery.
He explains the kebab business is a family affair, and he was encouraged by his father to pursue his own business. They gave him advice – “They have to, innit. They have shops, not mine, the other side of the family. They don’t have kebab vans to be honest, they have shops. Because here we got a van, mobile vans, mobile catering. We thought we’d do it too – mobile catering”.
One of the great things about Hassan’s is his team. They serve not only cheesy chips but also, great chat, and are an essential part of the return from the clubs. There was a point in first year where I went so often that Ali, one of the workers, knew my order by heart. I now have him on Facebook. With such friendly and confident people, I ask Hassan how he assembled such a lively and fun loving team. Family is clearly a very important facet of life for Hassan.
“One of them is my son; the one with the hearing aid.”
The working relationship between the two of them is great, I ask if his son enjoys working with him.
Hassan laughs: “He has to! He’s working with his dad!”
Having had the location and business for so long, Hassan must’ve seen many a throng of students pass in front of his kebab van. I ask what is the strangest encounter he’s ever had.
“To be honest with you I never had any problem. You know sometimes when you lot have been drinking”, – he gestures – “not that bad. You’re drunk, you’re happy, you say something silly, I know what its like – that is life.”
I ask if he ever gets bored of drunk students – he replies with an emphatic “Never”.
“This is my Whitehouse and I’m just focusing on this”
“With you lot never, honestly trust me. With you lot I demand you drink and I demand you are drunk and I demand you say that, doesn’t matter. I don’t mind putting up with you lot, honestly.”
Keeping in mind my regular, quite basic order of cheese and chips, I ask if he’s had any genuinely odd orders;
“Sometimes when [the students] are happy, they keep asking for something mixed up.” Yet, Hassan remains professionally non judgemental: “To be honest with you I don’t call it weird or something. I do anything they ask me for to be honest.”
When pushed, however, he admits that some sauce combinations are in fact, strange: “Sometimes when you’ve got some kind of sauce, they don’t suit each other – I keep advising them, look this sauce and this one – like a joke”.
“For me, when you ask me for mayo noise and burger sauce; no not with a mixed please. I give them advice, if you like it hot you can always ask for chilli and garlic. Experience of life innit.”
Although there are several other kebab vans in Oxford, Hassan and his team don’t seem to engage with the others, instead choosing to focus on their own team.
“To be fair, I’m just focusing on my [kebab van]. This is my Whitehouse and I’m just focusing on this. Outside is totally different; i haven’t got time to go nowhere, to see nobody to be honest. I just haven’t got time for nobody, I just have time for this.” Upon consideration, he revises: “My number 10”.
What is made clear, is that his van is his life. When not working at night, his days are dedicated to preparation, planning, and catering for the evening’s work.
“I don’t mind putting up with you lot, honestly.”
“I go to sleep like everyone else, you know, get my sleep, then i wake up and I’m busy. Get the son up, not easy. Get the stock inside, check the burgers. Soon as I wake up I’m busy.”
Despite such a hectic lifestyle, however, Hassan genuinely enjoys his job. He smiles as I ask him if he likes working where he does.
“Of course I do, I’ve been doing it like I said for years now – since 1995. We’re talking 21 years”
In that time, it seems nothing and everything has changed.
“A lot, everything changes to be honest. Nothing special: things change by the day you know. During this period I changed the van twice. This is the third van. The third Whitehouse!”
He can’t commit to a favourite meal: “To be honest with you I like everything here. Chips and cheese. Chicken wrap with humus is good. Everything is good here. The quality I’ve got in here – I’m not going to say is better than others – but honestly the things I get are so expensive. I pay extra money to get good quality. I can prove it to anybody.”
He gets some burgers out and shows me – “This is lamb.” I confirm, it is lamb.
“Superior proper chicken strips. Chicken I’m selling is fresh chicken, marinated my own way, my own sauce. Very nice. I put a lot of things in my chicken. I didn’t copy it form anybody, I brought it from home.”
Our interview concludes with a small presentation of the various ingredients Hassan uses, and I wave goodbye to Hassan – until my routine post Park End cheesy chip indulgence, tomorrow.