Exclusive: Behind the scenes of Kem Cetinay's new shisha lounge

Former Love Island winner Kem Cetinay and business partner Nadir Gul are opening a new Harold Wood shisha lounge

Former Love Island winner Kem Cetinay and business partner Nadir Gul are opening a new Harold Wood shisha lounge - Credit: Sally Patterson

Former Love Island winner Kem Cetinay has opened a new shisha lounge in Harold Wood.

Hornchurch-born Kem, who recently moved to Brentwood, unveiled Array Essex last year.

Kem and business partner Nadir Gul have expanded the venue to create the jungle-themed lounge, which opens tomorrow - February 3.

The Recorder sat down with the owners to find out more about Bayou Lounge, the pair's relationship and why they chose to set up shop in the area.

The Recorder got a sneak-peak look at Kem Cetinay and Nadir Gul's new shisha lounge

The Recorder got a sneak-peak look at Kem Cetinay and Nadir Gul's new shisha lounge - Credit: Sally Patterson

What made you want to open Bayou Lounge?

Kem: We've been going to shisha lounges for a long time - being Turkish, it's quite a common thing to do.

There's no-one in the area doing it, so it was one of those things we were building as we were going along.

Nadir had this idea of building this amazing pergola which opens up completely and the windows go into to the floor.

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It's kind of like our little jungle paradise.

Nadir: It's very different from the restaurant, as it's walk-ins only, you can't book.

You can't give people time to finish when they have a shisha. People want to relax and do it in their own time.

Array opened in August last year - has it been smooth sailing?

Kem: I'll be honest, it's been really hard. It's a tough process, building a restaurant during Covid.

Getting things shipped over, finding staff, it felt like everything was going wrong.

In the first few months there were teething problems, but we found our feet and now people know what the restaurant is, we've found our identity.

Nadir: Kem used to come to my other restaurants (including Shish Meze in Hornchurch) and thought it was all so easy and everything ran smoothly.

But when we started working together he realised it's not like that at all.

Kem: The best thing I've learnt is to be too emotionally connected and not get upset at every tiny problem.

It was hard because everyone was watching for every little mistake that we made. 

So that was a big pressure on our shoulders. It's been a really humbling process.

Kem Cetinay (l) and Nadir Gul (r) have known each other for 17 years

Kem Cetinay (l) and Nadir Gul (r) have known each other for 17 years - Credit: Lyle Boenke/ Posh Cockney Productions

How did you end up working together?

Nadir: I've lived in the area for the last 19 years, and used to work in the fish and chips shop Oh My Cod.

Kem would come in when he was a kid, maybe five or six years old - we've known each other for a long time.

Kem: My mum would send me to the shop, and Nadir would say to me 'if you talk to me in Turkish I'll give you your chips for free'.

But because I was born in England, my Turkish wasn't good so I got scared.

But our families became close and when I came out of Love Island I knew I wanted to open a business together - we're like family.

Love Island star Kem Cetinay opened Array last August

Love Island star Kem Cetinay opened Array last August - Credit: Sally Patterson

What drew you to Harold Wood?

Kem: I'm from around here, I went to Langtons in Hornchurch and then Emerson Park, and the people are great.

I think people have a false perception of the area, they used to think Romford was quite rough, but I don't think it is.

It's developed a lot, especially with the new businesses opening here.

When we heard through the pipeline that the Shepherd and Dog was up for sale, we knew this building had so much history - I used to come here as a kid.

We felt this area needed something for the next generation - we wanted to make somewhere for the kids of the people who used to come to the pub.

Kem wanted to create a space where people could eat, relax and party, all in one venue

Kem wanted to create a space where people could eat, relax and party, all in one venue - Credit: Lyle Boenke/ Posh Cockney Productions

Two Love Island winners from the area - is there something in the water?

Kem: It's actually mad, her mum and dad live on the same road as mine.

We didn't know each other before but we've got a lot of mutual friends.

I guess you get a lot of chatty people in this area, and she's very outgoing like me.

Millie's done amazingly; we love having her family here, and held her birthday party in here before it was open.

Bayou Lounge opens tomorrow - Thursday, February 3.

Address: 91 Shepherds Hill, Romford, RM3 0NP