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Cardiff character: Jay Shah

Koko Gorilaz will soon be host to a huge fundraising event set up in aid of Karina Menzies and other victims of the recent tragedy in Ely

Jay Shah and co-workers

          Jay Shah, is seated in the corner of his venue, Koko Gorilaz, ready to greet Alt.Cardiff with a chilled pint of Coke. He has chosen quite a secluded seating area, presumably so as not to interrupt the service of his customers. Surrounded by cushions, he commanded quite a welcoming, yet, authoritative presence; “Take a seat, please.” Spoken softly through grinning teeth, it was a command, disguised as a request. The business man in Jay was looming close, but he did well to hide it.

           Next to the coke is a deliciously tempting chicken and bacon sandwich, which he casually slides over the table. “For you”, he says, in an accent which would most accurately be described as an amalgamation of Indian and African, with a little bit of Welsh sprinkled on top. It soon becomes apparent that Jay is quite a layered man; casual but professional, caring but stern. There’s definitely more to him than meets the eye; “Before all of this, before Kokos, before Cardiff, I used to be a bush pilot in Tanzania, where I was born.” It was Jay’s job to deliver people to and from refugee camps, a stark contrast to the business man nestled between two kashmir pillows.

          Jay migrated to London in 1985, where he worked at Macdonalds, Pizza Hut: “You name it, I just wanted to change my lifestyle.” Jay made the move to Cardiff, Grangetown, in 1994, where he set up his own supermarket called Castle Wines Food Express. But it wasn’t all swings and roundabouts, “It was very hard for me to settle in this country, because it was just a complete change.” Jay still remains true to himself however, every week he sends 50 pounds to Africa to care for his relatives who are still out there. As well as Africa, Jay travels to India quite often, “I go to help poor families, to see what their daily needs are, and see if I can assist them.”

          After running the Grangetown supermarket for 15 years, the tanzanian decided it was time for another change, “So I bought Kokos. I wanted a funky name, as we are based in Cathays which is largely populated by students, and I think Koko Gorilaz is just right.” At first, things were a little touch and go, “Business in Cardiff is hard, we kind of struggle when students are away, and that’s four to five months of the year.” Nevertheless, Jay completely renovated the place upon purchase; now it is a diverse and multitudinous venue. It’s a bar, a cafe, an Indian and Mexican restaurant, and it houses gigs in an upstairs function room.

          Just as he cares for poverty-stricken families in small villages in Africa and India, he also tries to entertain every one of his customers. “It’s a one stop shop, and I’m proud of that.”