When we set up the deli we were burning with all sorts of ideas about food. Many locals thought we were crazy to attempt to create good food, from good ingredients, in what was an old junk shop.
As Tim was doing the premises up locals gave us plenty of suggestions of what the shop should become. Some wanted a launderette. One old lady wanted a knicker shop, specifically for her and her friends, to save getting on the bus to Hounslow to buy big pants. It was an idea we dismissed.
We started off wanting to make everything organic, but as we were trying to keep it local, and were on the edge of London, we struggled to find the right suppliers. In the end we settled on the idea that everything in the deli had to be there for a reason.
We also started to get very interested in cheese. We became cheese spotters, cheese anoraks. We spent a morning in Bath tasting cheese – by lunchtime we’d tasted over 50 cheeses. We were cream-crackered.
Our weekly cheese bill was massive. And cheese is surprisingly hard work to keep tip top – it needs a lot of babysitting. Running a deli unit to keep it creates humongous electricity bills. The crunch time for cheese came when we noticed some people from one of the big 4 supermarkets came in to our second deli in Twickenham.
They had the name of their supermarket, which was just round the corner, on their clipboard. They had coffee, and took notes. A week later all the unusual cheeses we stocked, ones we’d never seen before in that particular supermarket were in stock. Plus all the chutneys, biscuits etc from our small suppliers. And of course, the supermarket buys by the pallet. So, we were very ‘knowingly undersold.’
We gave up cheese. Goodbye to the Stinking Bishop, Colston Bassett, Finn, Little Wallop. Au revoir, Epoisses. Arrivederci, Asiago.
The funny thing was, people would come in a year later, and say something like, “Oh, you don’t stock Comte anymore? But I always get my Comte here. I came in last December and you had it.” We’d probably make more money selling old ladies’ under-crackers.
So, things moved on. Tim started focussing on food to eat in, and dinner parties, which – truth be told – was what he always really wanted to do. We still had fabulous coffee, and classics like our gorgeous beetroot cake. We sold the Twickenham deli, as Tim couldn’t be in two places at once – I guess we should have worked that one out earlier. Duh.
Out of the blue, somebody wanted to buy the deli, the original one, at the end of our street.
Tim was tired, wrung out. We’d had four years of fighting against the recession, spats with the council about pavement licences that were 10 times the cost of those in neighbouring Richmond. There’d been issues with a trade waste company that put their prices up by 30% every 3 months – and picked up and charged for phantom bin bags.
So, the deli was sold. And now we’re here, out in the Chilterns. And there’s a new project on the way.
Looking back on our ‘manifesto’ as a chum called it – it’s clear we still care about the same things.
Now, we can achieve organic AND local. We can be closer to the animals that are behind it all. Tim can achieve the kinds of things he was trying to do when he was voted a ‘Local Food Hero’ on TV with Arthur Potts Dawson and Gary Rhodes. We can grow our own. Organically.
But moving here, to Buckinghamshire, which is ‘going home’ for me, we’ve found there are lots of great suppliers of real food.
The new project will be up and running by the spring, we hope. It’s a bit quirky, a bit handmade, and on a shoestring. But we’re used to that. It will be working with those little producers who really care. And we won’t be competing with supermarkets. Or purveyors of senior lingerie.