When The African Corner opened for business in the centre of Wellington last winter most locals were puzzled as to what it was all about, and sceptical that a shop could survive selling exotic foods such as biltong and boerwors in a small Somerset town.
Almost one year on, Nikki Morkel surveys a bustling shop from behind her counter and is a happy retailer. “The African community in this area is really quite large and for them it’s all about nostalgia, talking about days out in the bush, picnics by the dam, all that kind of thing,” said Nikki,
“The beauty of having the shop is that we meet so many people who share some of our background,” said Nikki, who came to Britain 12 years ago when her farmer parents fled the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. Her husband and business partner, Brent Gillespie is from South Africa, and came to UK at about the same time as Nikki. They married two years ago and have a baby son.
“People from Africa just love to socialise,” explained Nikki, who’s no slouch herself when it comes to chatting. “This summer we sent out an email to our customers inviting them to come out to a braai [Afrikaans for barbeque] at a pub run by some South African friends and over 200 people turned up.”
African Corner sells a wide range of curios and artefacts made by African craftsmen, but it’s the food in the rear section that really drives the business. Biltong, wind-dried meat, hangs in a fly-proof case above the counter and the freezer is packed with boerewors, the dense sausage beloved by everyone from southern Africa. Flou, baking goods and Mrs Ball’s Chilli Chutney fill the shelves.
Cans of Castle lager from Cape Town and unusual fruit juices occupy the chiller cabinet and there are even sweets and chocolate bars straight from the dark continent.
“I’m buying boerewors and maize flour to make a very traditional dish of sausage, gravy and mielie meal,” said regular customer Madeleine Scorgie from NW Transvaal who has lived in Taunton for over 10 years.”It’s really solid warm-you-up food that reminds us of Africa.”
“Before Nikki and Brent opened their shop we had to go as far as Bristol or Southampton to find the food we loved. This place is a real home from home.”