Leila Shamsan, 32, pictured in front of the kitchen at Butetown Community Centre. Credit: Zeenia Naqvee

Her stepdad’s dying wish was for Leila to open a restaurant… and now she’s done just that

The mum-of-three has opened the new Yemeni kitchen to serve Cardiff’s Butetown community

KEEN cook Leila Shamsan has set up a Yemeni-western fusion restaurant from the kitchen at Butetown Community Centre after her stepdad encouraged her to do it before he died of Covid.

Leila, 32, started selling traditional Yemeni food to friends and family during the Coronavirus pandemic but only decided to make a real go of it after stepdad Cyril Payne died, aged 60.

“This restaurant is his legacy,” she said.

Cyril was known as a pillar in his community.

“He was a youth worker for over 30 years in the St Mellons area and like a dad to many of the children who attended the youth centre,” explained Leila.

The former waitress has made the dream a reality thanks to financial backing from her mum and calling on her childhood friend Dee – with whom she grew up in Loudoun Square – to help in the kitchen.

Shamshack has only been open since March 3, but it’s going from strength to strength. They offer a discount for pensioners and NHS workers and have even given free meals to hungry kids.

Leila also hopes it will bring young people in the community closer together.

Leila, who used to advertise the business on Snapchat, rents the kitchen in Butetown Community Centre, which overlooks the tower block she lives in with her young children and partner.

Setting up her business during the cost-of-living crisis, Leila was lucky enough to have her mother, Samira Salter’s support. The 59-year-old mental health hub worker gave her some money to start up the business.

Late Cyril Payne pictured with his wife Samira Salter, and stepdaughter Leila. Credit: Leila Shamsan.

Leila cannot yet afford to hire staff, but her childhood friend Dee, 39, is giving her a helping hand in the kitchen for now. Dee was too shy for us to use her surname.

This is not the first time the pair have joined forces – they used to cater for funerals at Butetown Community Centre, a place that is both “close to my heart” and physically close to Leila.

Both Dee and Leila grew up in the Loudoun Square tower blocks.

While Dee has managed to move out, Leila still lives in the tower block but hopes that her success with Shamshack continues so that she can privately rent a house instead.

Leila and Dee also make sure that they serve hungry children hot meals for free, operating a no questions asked policy.

During this cost-of-living crisis, we’ve seen kids that we can tell are less fortunate – we give them free food. I guess it’s just maternal instinct; both Dee and I are mothers.”

Leila, 32

The cost-of-living worries her as a businesswoman but the success she has seen within just 11 days of opening has left her with some optimism.

“It was all very daunting at first but hopefully it’ll all pay off!” said Leila.

The most popular dish with young people has been the loaded fries, who she hopes to employ when her business is more well-established.

“I want to make a change with the kids, get them working in my kitchen, and get them selling their own food so they can make money the right way and do nice things like take a trip to Oakwood Theme Park,” she said.

Lots of our customers are youngsters. Getting them off the street doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing like dealing drugs, is important to me.”

Leila, 32

She encourages her young customers to take advantage of the community centre’s free facilities like internet and heating.

Shamshack’s loaded fries, served with their special sauce. Credit: Zeenia Naqvee.

Her identity as a half-Yemeni half-Welsh woman is important to her cooking. She uses methods popular in Yemen like deep-frying meat, smoking rice on a grill and using clarified butter.

Leila markets her food as Yemeni fusion, eager to distinguish it from traditional Yemeni cuisine.

“Lots of people in Butetown are Yemeni anyway; they cook the traditional stuff at home, so I’ve made my food a bit different. It’s fusion food with a street food twist on it,” she said.

The menu includes haneed, a roasted lamb dish native to Yemen and Shamshack special sauce.

As Leila is a Muslim woman, Shamshack only serves halal food to cater to Butetown’s high Islamic population.

“I feel like my generation and older are a bit more community minded. When all these young people come in, it reassures me that they’re in the centre rather than the street. I hope it stays this way,” Leila added.

Coupled with her stepfather’s faith, the birth of her now two-year-old daughter caused a loss of self-worth.

“I had lots of anxiety after having my kids – I was just ‘Leila the mum,’ but this has really helped me. My stepdad passed away due to covid, he was the main push, and this restaurant is his legacy. He saw my potential,” she said.

“There was a fundraising football tournament in memory of him organised by some of the youths of St Mellons. They even made a trophy with his face on it,” she added.

Leila opened Shamshack on March 3 and is surprised that she’s received such a warm welcome.

Cyril’s fundraiser trophy pictured above the Shamshack banner, outside Butetown Community Centre. Photo credits: Leila Shamsan and Zeenia Naqvee.

“We haven’t made any losses in these four days. The first day was crazy busy,” she said.

Her first ever business venture, Leila hopes to be a role model for her three children, who are aged three, six and 10.

“I want them to look at me and feel they can make a difference to this tight-knit community as well,” said the businesswoman.

Like many businesses in tight-knit Butetown, customers find her through word of mouth, and she has leafleted in her tower block.

Khalid Alaale, 35, works at the nearby Huggard Centre, which supports homeless people and rough sleepers.

Khalid proudly holding Shamshack’s menu. Credits: Zeenia Naqvee.

Shamshack is easily the best food in town!”

Khalid alaale, huggard social worker, 35

Butetown Community Centre is close to two mosques, Noor El Islam, and the South Wales Islamic Centre, so Leila hopes to attract Muslim customers after their Friday prayer.

She sources her meat from butchers on Bute Street in order to support local businesses.

She is keen to partner with Deliveroo and UberEats in the future and wants to be a vendor for Butetown Carnival in August.

  • Shamshack is in Butetown Community Centre, located at 40 Loudoun Square, Cardiff, CF10 5JA.
  • A link to Shamshack’s Instagram page can be found here.
  • It is open every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday between 1pm and 6pm.