Eat 17: The former Birchwood boy bringing Borough Market under a roof to Stortford
An award-winning London food and drink venture is to open a branch in Bishop's Stortford next Thursday (November 9), creating what one of the brains behind the business calls"Borough Market under a roofin the town centre.
Former Birchwood High School student James Brundle, 33, who lived in Stortford for 15 years, and stepbrother Chris O’Connor, also 33, from Walthamstow will open their fourth Eat 17 branch – their biggest yet – in the former Store Twenty One premises on Potter Street. It will create around 30 jobs.
At heart it is a mini-supermarket and deli selling food and drink, 20% of which are everyday essentials, covered by a partnership deal it has with convenience store chain Spar, and 80% of which is produce from local suppliers. Eat 17 also sells a range of about 100 of its own ready meals and its award-winning Bacon Jam relish, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.
But in a departure from its first three branches, in London and Kent, the Stortford store will also feature an in-house artisan bakery, an award-winning fishmonger, a coffee shop, a bar and street food stalls selling Japanese, Mexican and Italian.
Eat 17 began in 2006 when it opened a neighbourhood grocery and bistro in a run-down off-licence in Walthamstow. Since then it has opened a restaurant next door and started trading in Hackney and Whitstable, with two more stores to follow in Hammersmith and Leytonstone.
Its website says: “We’re proud to be ‘not your average store’. We’re dedicated to doing things the right way; thinking local, prioritising people before profit, taking great pride in our work and, most of all, putting proper food on your plate.”
James lives in Dunmow with his partner, Kelly Farnden, 33, and their children, Ella, 7, and Ethan, 3. The couple started their family in Stortford. Ella went to Summercroft Primary School for two years until they moved to their new home.
James told the Independent: “Predominantly we wanted to focus our growth in London. Stortford was never really part of our plan, but I think what we offer with food and products, there’s nothing close in Stortford to what we’re doing. No-one really does what we do and we just thought an Eat 17 would be good here.
“We’ve always been really into food, so we started sourcing a lot of local produce and we were really the first retailers doing that.”
Each Eat 17 is unique. “There’s no set method to what we do,” said James. “We like being different and creative, and that’s really what the brand’s about.”
The pair have picked up several business awards. In 2012, their Hackney business was named The Grocer magazine’s Best Store in the UK. This year it was named ‘Best Large Store’ at the Retail Awards and won an award for innovation.
In addition, Eat 17 was named in the 2015 Good Food Guide, it was awarded a TripAdvisor certificate of excellence in 2014 and was voted ‘Favourite Local Restaurant’ by Gary Lee, head chef at The Ivy, in the London Foodie Guide 2013.
The partnership with Spar, which provides basic, everyday products, enables James and Chris to focus on the creative aspects of their business and to work with local producers. This means that each Eat 17 shop caters for those who want to pick up their necessities as well as offering the chance to discover something new and local.
“In Walthamstow, just for one store we have over 100 suppliers,” said James. “In Hackney, probably about the same, and in Whitstable we have about 60. They’re all local to that area. We’ll be looking at creating the same here.”
The Stortford branch will be their largest yet.
“We wanted to create something really different. We decided to do quite a number of things under one roof here,” James said.
“We’re going to have an award-winning fishmonger take some space. He’s not local, but he’s great. We’re going to do a bakery here; we’re going to specialise in artisan and sourdough bread.”
The stepbrothers are excited about the street food aspect of their new store, which will offer Mexican, Japanese, pasta and pizza options.
“We’re going to have four concessions offering a variety of different things,” said James. “There’s a big street food movement in some parts of London, but in Stortford, Essex and Hertfordshire it’s not really done. It’s a bit of an experiment.
“The street food guys are brilliant. We’ve tried lots of food over the last couple of months, just to see what would suit what we’re trying to achieve.”
The new store will create 30 jobs, including store supervisor, bar manager and barista. James said: “The manager we’ve got already: he’s working at our Hackney site now, he’s from Stortford.”