What inspired your idea for The Grocery and how did it come to be situated on Kingsland Road?
Simon and I were living in Shoreditch at the time and there was nowhere to buy decent food in the area apart from Fresh and Wild [now known as Whole Foods] by Old Street roundabout. When that was closing, we thought, ‘There’s got to be something to eat around here.’ We’d been renting part of the building for our marketing company since 2000 but realised it was too good a space to just do that, so we moved out and put The Grocery in. We just did it to cater to the locals – to people like us.
This imposing building has quite an interesting history…
It was actually much bigger when it was built in the 1870s, but when the railway line – which is joined right to the rear – was built 20 years later, they took out the back and built a glass roof that joined the two buildings, with light shining all the way down into the basement. It was a shoe factory previously, operating all the way up until the 1970s when it closed, as did most of the factories in Shoreditch.
Tell us about the café and restaurant pop-ups that The Grocery hosts?
For 10 years the café was where the wines are but two years ago we acquired the bright corner space at the front and relocated it. We specialise in salads – we’ll have between six to eight different ones daily – alongside protein side-plates and hot dishes. The kitchen is here so everything is fresh.
Downstairs we have 65 seats and from July the head chef from The Clove Club will be taking a residency for four nights a week. We’ve had some quite interesting people in, such as La Grande Bouffe fine dining and chefs from Sushi Samba. Most pop-ups lose money, but the way we structure ourselves is that it works for everyone and they’re not just hiring the space – they benefit from our support.
How did you come to add a treatment centre?
Again, there was a lack of resource in the area. We specialise in holistic treatments and it’s part of The Grocery being a destination and in-keeping with what we’re doing. We have four rooms and a lot people stop by after work.
You stock an impressive selection of wines, what are your current favourites?
I hardly ever drink the same wine more than once or twice because we stock a lot and we sample around 2,000 wines a year! But I’m drinking quite a lot of Chateau de Luc at the moment. There’s an Italian white called Gavi which is really good too. We’ve just started our own import company, which means a much better price for the customer.
What’s the most positive change that you have seen in the neighbourhood?
It’s a lot busier and safer than it used to be. I think I like that the diversity of the residents has evolved too: there’s a mixture of everyone. There was a lot of deprivation and the people that have stayed on have benefited from the changes. The local amenities have improved a lot as Hackney has been developed.
Being a stone’s throw from Long & Waterson, what can residents expect from The Grocery?
Community. They are going to see familiar faces and they can ask us to buy things for them if they have dietary requirements. We root ourselves as part of the community and we know a lot of the locals, and they tend to know the staff by name because everyone’s quite chatty here.
And finally, tell us about The Grocery’s furry resident…
“Ah yes, ASBO the cat lives in the shop. We got him from a farm about 10 years ago when all those offences were being given out. When we first opened, the building was riddled with mice and the council failed to get rid of them, but within a month of having ASBO, he had killed everything. He’s tough and well-built and good around people. He’s not that anti-social – except when it comes to catching mice!”
To visit the grocery website: www.thegroceryshop.co.uk