Leon Herbert was born and raised in Poplar, and has lived in the Aberfeldy area since the age of 14. In his adult years he’s lived in a few other places, but told us “something always pulls me back”. He and childhood friend Joshua Martin have recently opened two new exciting businesses in the area.
Roots Barber Shop
Beginning as an app, DigiBarber, that allows customers to book haircuts and be efficient with their time, Roots is the app’s first flagship store, offering training opportunities for young people and a space for freelance hairdressers.
- 37 Aberfeldy Street, E14 0NU
- Mon-Wed: 9am-7pm. Thur-Sat: 9am-8pm. Sun: 10am-6pm.
- Book an appointment via their Instagram
The Works café
The Works is a new café at Poplar Works, serving fresh breakfasts, waffles, pancakes, smoothies, protein shakes and more.
- Poplar Works, 384 Abbott Road, London, E14 0UX
- Mon-Fri: 7am-8pm. Sat: 10am-4pm.
- Find them on Instagram
We had a chat with Leon to find out more.
What was it like growing up in Poplar?
“[Poplar] was a great place to grow up in, such a diverse community. It gives you a good basis of cultures as you mix with a variety of people and it gives you a lot of experience if you soak it all up and take it all in. I’ve always mixed in with the community and been a friendly face from when I was young. I always wanted to be involved in everything and be a part of something.”
Have you always had an entrepreneurial streak?
“I always felt like my mum did so much and I had an emotional awareness seeing her always working hard to make us happy. I adopted an entrepreneurial streak from then. When I was young I used to buy and sell anything I could get my hands on that I knew other kids would want – I’d buy them for cheap and try to make a profit. I worked in car sales for a number of years before starting my own businesses.”
What can locals look forward to from Roots Barber Shop?
“The plan is to have three full time barbers and then add in two training chairs dedicated to a community programme where we train 13-18 year olds how to cut hair. We want to be able to reach young people that are a little bit out of touch. We might get hundreds of kids who come through the doors and only 10 or 20 want to become barbers, but the fundamental goal is to give them some life experience skills.
Myself and Josh have been friends since we were teenagers. We know the area, we’ve walked the same streets; so that message might get across a little louder and clearer to give the youth some guidance.
Having a local shop allows us to live out all of our dreams by doing the youth programme and cutting the people’s hair that we know in the community.”
How did The Works café come about?
“We went to have a look at Poplar Works’ garage units for a possible expansion of DigiBarber. When we were there, a Poplar HARCA staff member said: ‘You don’t know anyone who’d be interested in running a café, do you?’. It was a lightbulb moment as they were looking for someone to set up their own business, and my mum’s worked in the catering industry for years.
Me, my mum (Alaina) and Josh are joint partners of the café, and my sister (Sass) works there a few days a week. We all chip in. We didn’t know what to expect straight away but doing the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out Scheme helped us with a little push when we first opened. Fortunately being local, word of mouth got us up and running.
In the Aberfeldy area, if you want something quick to grab, there are limited options unless you want fried chicken! We wanted to make somewhere where you could eat fresh food, and somewhere you could eat in.”
What’s it been like growing two businesses during the pandemic?
“As much as the environment affects us all, I try and think outside of that and stay positive. It’s a difficult time, but people still want to eat and they still want to get their haircut!”