Posh Nosh: the unlikely origins of an Oxford institution

Student Life

When you find yourself stumbling out of a club at two in the morning with stomach rumbling, knowing the story behind the particular kebab van whose counter you find yourself standing at (or leaning on) may not be at the top of your list of priorities. Rasim Ulas, owner of Posh Nosh, doesn’t mind, saying that when customers are visibly drunk, “it’s not too difficult to serve them”. Though he’s happy to provide cheesy chips and jacket potatoes for the undiscriminating palettes of inebriated, bleary-eyed students, Ulas’s kebab vans, in Abingdon and on Queen St, are about much more than satisfying people’s late-night food fixes.

Ulas has had ample time to hone his food service skills, having begun working in the food service industry since 1988. After a stint in catering in Oxford, Ulas started out on his own, opening the predecessor to today’s Posh Nosh in Newbury in 1997. After four and a half years, however, Ulas returned to Oxford, opening a van in Abingdon and then, in 2007, the Queen St location. As a result of all this experience, Ulas is keen to provide “not drunk food, but food for everyone to enjoy”. Indeed, the menu and preparation of foods at Posh Nosh are noticeably different from those of some other food trucks, which may provide short-term satisfaction but long-term indigestion and regrets.

When asked about this difference, Ulas diplomatically responds, “I don’t follow the other food trucks”. Posh Nosh, in fact, has been inspired and influenced by a much unlikelier source. When compelled to explain the provenance of the name “Posh Nosh”, Ulas began speaking about the far off (if not exactly exotic) city of Chicago. In the process of starting his business, Ulas took a trip to the windy city where he happened upon an Italian coffee shop called Posh Nosh. Tickled by the tongue-in-cheek name and impressed by the logo and overall design, Ulas asked the owner of the shop if he could adopt it for his own establishment. The owner agreed, and the Posh Nosh name went global.

The two establishments, however, retain no official affiliation, and the Oxford Posh Nosh is a decidedly intimate, family-run affair. Ulas has just four employees, two full-time and two part-time, and says he has his hands full, with no current plans to expand. Though his lengthy experience in the food industry made the transition to owning Posh Nosh relatively smooth, Ulas does concede that “working and running a business are completely different”. Still, he finds the work rewarding and interesting, saying that he loves being in control and responsible for all the details, from maintaining very high hygienic standards (his daughter asserted that the trucks are “cleaned—really thoroughly cleaned—every night. He doesn’t just mop the floor once a week like some places”) to chatting with customers late into the night.

Dealing with customers, Ulas acknowledged, is often the most taxing part of the job. Though Posh Nosh sees a mix of families, locals, tourists, and members of the University, Ulas says that dealing with students late at night can get particularly interesting. “Sometimes, when they’re drunk, they’re not understandable or they are very demanding,” Ulas admits. His advice when dealing with customers like this is, “You have to keep your cool. Sometimes you have to be blind or deaf,” while also remembering that, “If you just make an effort to understand and satisfy the customer—any customer—it will be alright”. Satisfying customers, is, after all, Ulas’s main goal, and he notes that restaurants and kebab vans have only one chance to make a first impression. If he were to serve someone a jacket potato that wasn’t fresh or cold chips, he says, Posh Nosh may never see that person again or get a chance to redeem itself. Ulas isn’t too worried, however, for he has faith that Posh Nosh’s quality food and customer service will continue satisfying customers for a long time to come.

 

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