A derelict east London snooker hall is back in the game as a unique retail venture thanks to four of the industry’s brightest young entrepreneurs. Ed Chadwick reports

When a derelict snooker hall became available on a resurgent east London high street, it was the cue for four young entrepreneurs to expand their retail empire.

Their unique retailing story began in 2007 when brothers Dan and Chris O’Connor, James Brundle and Chris’ partner Siobhan O’Donnell took over a convenience store in Walthamstow.

After four years of learning the ropes and making a name for themselves with an in-store pizzeria, they bought a bistro next door and named it Eat 17 in honour of the neighbourhood’s postcode.

 <figcaption>Innovations such as Bacon Jam can really put your store on the map and make you a destination</figcaption>” width=”173″ height=”300″> Innovations such as Bacon Jam can really put your store on the map and make you a destination</figure><p>The awards followed and chef Chris invented the unique Bacon Jam condiment which now notches up sales worth £0.5m a year and is listed by major supermarkets.</p><p>It’s a story of unmitigated success which led them to open a second site at one end of the increasingly trendy Chatsworth Road in Homerton.</p><p>The Spar fascia above the store tells customers that this is a local convenience store but, in reality, it’s so much more. Under the foursome’s banner of Eat 17, the building has a burger bar which opened at the same time as the shop in the last week of April.</p><p>A restaurant focusing on British classics will open on the first floor in a space it will share with an independent cinema, taking the building’s use full circle to its origins as a 1930s picture house.</p><p>The emphasis in the shop is on quality and locally-sourced produce.</p><p>Coffee beans for their in-store bar come from a local resident who roasts them in her shed just 100 yards from the shop.</p><p>A farmer’s market held on Chatsworth Road every weekend has meant it has been easy to find fruit and veg suppliers, while beers travel less than two miles from local brewery Crate.</p><p>With a clientele made up of many self-proclaimed “foodies” for whom provenance is everything, these numbers matter.</p><p>So why, with a focus on independent suppliers and artisan produce, do they want to be part of a symbol group?</p><p>As Dan puts it: “For the volume essentials like milk, it’s good to have the support of a good wholesaler or you’d spend all your time in a cash and carry.</p><p>“We also think that Spar is a well-known brand on the high street and something customers have a lot of fondness and nostalgia for.</p><p>“Spar has been incredibly supportive and flexible in terms of what we wanted to create here, whereas some of the other groups we spoke to were very prescriptive over interior design a floor space.”</p><p>[pull_quote_right] <span style=Spar has been incredibly supportive and flexible in terms of what we wanted to create here [/pull_quote_right]

There are no multiples in the area, but some local businesses were concerned about the arrival of a Spar store.

But the Eat 17 founders have been careful not to step on any toes.

The store – like its predecessor – doesn’t carry news and magazines and lottery and cigarette sales take a back seat.

Instead, the majority of shopper missions are for evening meal items and sales of wines supplies by independent vintner Borough Wines are strong.

There are clear benefits to having a skilled chef in the shop at all times.

Any wastage or surplus on fruit and veg goes straight to the kitchen where it becomes a menu item or is turned into ready meals for the shop’s shelves.

“The ready meals sell out every day and we have virtually no wastage,” says Dan.

“People who don’t want to cook after a long day still want food which is good quality and the fact that it has been cooked that day and on site is a great selling point.”

Do this unique business’ owners regard themselves as retailers or restaurateurs?

“It depends who you ask,” says Dan. “Chris and I would probably say we’re in the restaurant business, but James is a retailer.

“There’s a lot of crossover and what we want to do is provide quality food and good service so that we build a consistent brand.”

At the same time as building a brand, they want to build an empire and Dan says opening a second site has given them appetite for a third.

 

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