Not only does Yusuf Corten make delicious food at his traditional Turkish Kebab Kitchen in Bridge Street but he is also incredibly generous to the Nelson community, a community that welcomed him in 2017 when he moved to Nelson and bought the business.
In August 2022 when many people were hit by devastating flood damage he posted on Facebook that “We will provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for families who lost their homes or were damaged in the flood”. He opened early for breakfast during the emergency and said “This is not just for today! Our door is open to everyone until the lives of everyone affected by the flood return to normal.”
I could just stop writing here, this sums up Yusuf’s attitude to helping people perfectly, it’s something he has done since he bought the business and says he will continue to do. It is no secret that he gives away food to people who can’t afford to buy it or who are living on the street.
He says “Nelson is really hurting right now; I have never seen it so quiet or people struggle so much with high living costs. We are only a small business, but I think it is important to help in any way we can.”
So where does this very generous attitude of giving, and supporting those less fortunate, stem from? Yusuf was born in Turkey and told me that his community spirit “comes from my country and my religion, it’s an Islam attitude. In Islam we believe that God says ‘what I give you is not yours, it’s just to look after. One day you die and leave everything, what I give you is for you to share with people.”
Yusuf has a four year old child and two step-children that he cares for after his wife died 2 ½ years ago and his generosity does come at a cost to him. As we talked he said he gives away 35-40 meals a week and if he sold those it would be between about $600 and $800 a week.
He says he has seen many changes in recent months and years, “everything is getting more expensive. Prices are going up too much for people to afford and businesses are closing all over town.”
It is clear Nelson really needs change, “the street needs change, it’s always messy, the trees are too big and they’re the wrong trees to have in town. The roots are damaging the footpaths and council has to spend so much money looking after them. There are better things to plant that will help the city look nicer all year.
“Nelson is looking run-down now compared to Richmond, it was the reverse only a few years ago. Look at Picton, it is one street but a beautiful street. Why can’t Nelson be like that. I think council is spending money on the wrong things, like fixing the footpaths all the time rather than planting the right trees.
“I think that’s one of the biggest problems, the trees make a huge mess, we do our best to clean them up each day but the wind just blows the leaves around.”
He also says that when you look at the buildings in town they are dull and boring, they are all pale colours or grey and many could do with a coat of paint, “we needs some brightness and freshness”. He says landlords have a role to play too in maintaining their buildings and choosing brighter colours to help bring some life into the city.
He has many ideas from his experiences living in other countries and talks about things like closing a street and having a regular street market “every Thursday night close Bridge St and set up a night market. Trafalgar St seems to be looked after but to me it looks like the rest of town is being ignored.” We talked about the proposed changes to Bridge St and he says it is exactly what is needed but we also need more businesses, “so many have closed, there are lots of empty shops compared to Richmond where everything is full. Something has to change.”
He says Nelson is run down, it needs fresh thinking from everyone – council, landlords, business owners and even shoppers, everyone has to play their part to bring some vibrancy to the city, and it’s not about setting up more cafés, we are all struggling during winter and this winter is the worst trading I have seen since I have been here.”
We talked about events like Te Ramaora Light Nelson and he thinks it is the wrong time of the year because it’s very cold, and most of the displays were at the other end of town mainly around the cathedral, “why not close a street and make it accessible to more people. Not everyone can climb steps or walk on slopes and it was too cold for me to take my kids, we went for an hour and my four year old got sick even though she was wearing warm clothes.”
And kids getting sick is something else he sees “young people going out in shorts and no shoes, lots using drugs and alcohol, it is very sad. One woman comes in to get food and she has had so many drugs she can’t talk, she is always on drugs, but I give her some food.”
Yusuf also told me he doesn’t want this article to make it seem like he is complaining about everything, it is just how he sees the city from his shop where he hands out food every day to people who are struggling for whatever reason. “People have different reasons for the circumstances they find themselves in and I just do my little bit to help.”
He told me it would be wonderful if everyone helped people less fortunate.
And the food he gives away is delicious, it isn’t leftovers. At the Kebab Kitchen Yusuf makes his food fresh each day, even most of his sauces. Classic dishes like lamb and chicken Kebabs, Iskender, salads, meat on fries lathered with his delicious homemade sauces and of course, his homemade falafel.
Generous servings, moderately priced fresh, tasty food, great service and incredible community spirit makes the Kebab Kitchen a place worth buying your Turkish takeaways from. Some of the money you spend is going to help people less fortunate.
Check out his Facebook pages to find out more about what he does, just search for Yusuf Corten or Kebab Kitchen.