Sticky Wings, located on the corner of Brick Lane and Chicksand Street, was once home to the iconic Pakistani-owned café Sweet & Spicy.
The current owner of Sticky Wings grew up in Tower Hamlets and now lives in Kent. He is of mixed Bangladeshi and English heritage. His father arrived in Britain from East Pakistan in the 1950s and worked in the East End as a hotel kitchen porter. With his savings, he later purchased and ran the Indo-Pak Social Club on Commercial Road. This was a café serving home-style food predominantly to single South Asian men.
The owner of Sticky Wings was inspired to open a chicken wing restaurant after having spent a couple of months in Los Angeles, USA, where he briefly worked at a ‘buffalo’ wing restaurant. He opened his first US-inspired chicken wing restaurant in Lewisham in 2009 and went on to open Sticky Wings in Brick Lane in 2013.
The restaurant’s customers, many of whom are regulars, are very diverse. They represent a variety of backgrounds and age groups. Sticky Wings has an innovative menu, with experimental chicken wing flavours. An unusual, but well-loved, offering is the popular strawberry flavour chicken wing – a Sticky Wings speciality.
Those who are familiar with this corner of Brick Lane will know that Sticky Wings was once home to Sweet & Spicy, a Pakistani-owned café which opened in 1969 and was described by one of our interviewees as ‘a Brick Lane institution’.
Stepping back in time: Sweet & Spicy
Sweet & Spicy was one of only a handful of Brick Lane’s early cafés, which catered to local Bengalis. Although the café was owned and run by a Pakistani family, the chefs and kitchen staff were mainly Bengali-born. The walls of Sweet & Spicy were decorated with images of famous Pakistani wrestlers and the kitchen served affordable breakfasts home-style food and snacks. Almost immediately, the café became a meeting place and lunchtime destination for local Bengali workers, most of whom were employed in the garment trade. Once local respondent told us:
‘it was, again, catering for the menfolk, but then the food was Pakistani. And it was slightly different to Bengali food, but people loved it, especially their roti and kebab or kebab roll or chana [chickpeas]. So, I think we used to go to Sweet & Spicy for the snack type of food.’
In the early 1970s, Sweet & Spicy also became an important ‘safe’ meeting space on Brick Lane for groups of Bangladeshi political activists and community organisers who lived in and around Spitalfields. One Brick Lane resident and local community worker said:
‘Well, that was the go-to place really, it’s where you would meet people in Brick Lane. And you’d sit down; you could either have a cup of tea, you could have something to eat. The food was always the same, whatever day of the week it was’.
Another Brick Lane resident and community worker reflected on the importance of the café to the local Bangladeshi community:
'there was always one place everybody went to, the Asians went to, that was Sweet & Spicy.’
He went on to add:
‘to me Brick Lane died the day Sweet & Spicy closed down, you know.’
When the owner of Sweet & Spicy closed the restaurant to enter retirement, the unit changed hands and reopened as Sticky Wings.