Melrose and Morgan’s two London grocery stores are veterans of the sustainable food movement, championing quality customer service and great British produce long before it became fashionable. Now with nearly ten years under their belt we ask them what’s next on their agenda…
Almost a decade has passed since Melrose & Morgan first set up shop in North West London, their mission being to set up a permanent, year round indoor farmers’ market environment under one roof. Now with two successful stores in Primrose Hill and Hampstead, co-founder Ian James has learned a great deal about both sourcing produce and cooking for his customers. He tells us all, plus why we shouldn’t expect a Melrose & Morgan café any time soon.
What was your dream when you started out nine years ago?
We used to go to Borough Market when it was just starting, and enjoyed spending our Saturday mornings there. But come Wednesday we’d be back in Tesco. You went to all that effort to buy artisanal and farm-produced food, and then had to suffer supermarket stuff at the end of the week anyway. We started to ask why we couldn’t get this kind of food the rest of the week. After all, it’s not as if it was just produced on weekends. That gave us the idea to create a farmers’ market, all under one roof, every day of the week, selling great British produce.
You sell your own products too – how did that come about?
I had helped set up the Wapping Project and what I had enjoyed the most there was working with the chefs. We thought it would be great to have a kitchen in our shop. Originally it was an open kitchen, which made it literally like walking into someone’s kitchen, with a large refectory table which we would pile up with food from the stove, as well as bread and cheese. The food we were making ourselves became a big draw for our customers – who were time-poor and cash-rich, and happy to take ready-made stuff from us rather than buy all the ingredients and spend the time making it themselves. Everything was made in small batches in front of them, so our food became the star of the show.
Is that still the case?
We have a huge product range now – over 500 different recipes that we sell through the year, depending on the season. At the moment we’re selling pea and mint soup, but in the winter it’ll be steak and ale pie, winter chutneys and jams. And of course there are always cakes and pastries. Sixty per cent of what we sell is made by us. The kitchen is no longer in the shop because we had outgrown it completely. We had to open a production kitchen in Camden to meet the demand – we sell 500 pots of soup a week! But we’re still only supplying our two shops, and everything is made in small batches by hand. At the same time we built the business on the important foundations of our suppliers.
How committed are you to only selling British produce?
When we started we didn’t sell croissants or pasta. We did sell olive oil, but that’s because a friend of ours was Italian and wanted us to sell hers and it was really good. The reality tells you that things have moved on and you have got to sell those things; if you’re operating a deli you have to have a range of continental produce. So we apply the same rigour to our sourcing of European products as to our British suppliers, but we don’t stock anything from outside of Europe. You won’t find any bananas! We have that traditional continental section you used to find in your classic grocery shop.
How much are you like a classic grocery shop or deli?
Well I used to walk into a classic deli and there would be 15 types of tea and 19 olive oils and I’d have no idea which to buy. So we ‘edit’ product groups and essentially reduce the choice for the customer. Busy people who just want tea or oil or pasta come to find what’s on our shelf and know that we have taken the time to carefully source it on their behalf. In a small shop like ours it’s a good thing to do, because you have a chance to serve your customer and be knowledgeable enough about your stock to recommend what they could try. We are curators of the produce we sell.
So what’s next?
We’re grocers. We’d like to open another shop and it is very tempting to open a shop with a café, but often the café takes over. We’re committed to retail not food service. So you’ll not find 70 per cent of the space taken up by cafe in any of our shops. We also have a kitchen book in the pipeline, which tells you how to preserve and how to store food, how to choose what you buy and what to make with it. Rather than a cookbook, it’s a grocer’s book that’s all about taste. For us everything we do is about good food, whether you buy the products we make or we tell you about the ingredients so you can take them home and do it for yourself.
FIVE FAVOURITE MELROSE AND MORGAN SUPPLIERS (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER):
- Chegworth Valley Juices – For their range of fresh apple and fruit juices, but also their own farm grown, fruit and vegetables, which are all English and all seasonal.
- Balthazar Bakery – This is a new London bakery attached to the Covent Garden restaurant. Head Baker Jon Rolfe makes wonderful yeasted and sourdough loaves; his London Bloomer is a favourite.
- The Tomato Stall – Excellent tomatoes that taste of tomato, from the Isle of Wight from March to October each year.
- The London Honey Company – Steve Benbow’s local London hives produce some great tasting urban honey.
- Climpson and Sons Coffee – An importer and roaster of ethically and fairly traded coffee that Melrose & Morgan use in their espresso machines and also sell freshly ground to customers.
Read the piece as it appeared on flavourfirst.org here