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Charlotte Bowers quit her job in consultancy last year to open a deli in Amwell Street – a thoroughfare of independent shops. She talks to Jon Yeomans about championing small producers, digital deli plans and her love of Clerkenwell ...

NAME: CHARLOTTE BOWERS 
JOB: OWNER,CHARLOTTE'S FINE FOODS
LOCATION: AMWELL STREET

What can people buy in Charlotte's Fine Foods?
It's a real range of everyday groceries from fresh bread, milk and cheese to amazing British charcuterie. I've got organic veg and all sorts of pantry staples: oils, vinegars, teas, jams. The vast majority of my products are from independent British producers - it's not brands you see all over the supermarkets. And where I can't find stuff being made here, I stock some products made on the Continent or a little bit further afield.

Why choose only independent products?
I'm passionate about independent businesses so it always seemed natural if I'm running one, to support others. There are some brilliant things being made by really small teams of people. And you can't underestimate the power of having a unique offering.

How do you source the products you stock?
I did a lot of research before I set up, through the whole of last year. As soon as you start looking, your eyes are opened to a whole world of products that you had absolutely no idea existed. Often a producer will tell you about another product that they know. Word of mouth is good: customers will mention stuff they've tried in different parts of the country. And some of it is just me going out to different shops, markets or trade fairs and having a look.

Was food an interest of yours prior to starting the shop?
Food has always been a big passion of mine and I really enjoy cooking. At the moment, in London especially, there's a big foodie revolution going on; it's fantastic the amount of restaurants that are popping up. There are always new things to try. When I decided I was going down the route of opening my own business, food was the first thing that came into mind. It's something that gets me out of bed in the morning - as it is for most people!

'The vast majority of my products are from independent British producers'

You opened in January. How's business going?
Good, so far it's on an upward trajectory. We're pretty much fully stocked now and it's building month on month. If I can keep that steady, then I'm happy.

Do you have plans to develop the deli?
I'm just getting ready to launch the website. We're going to have a full online shop – everything apart from the fresh produce. Hopefully people elsewhere in London or even further afield can go on there and get products delivered to their homes. It will be interesting to see what stuff is popular online as opposed to in the store. I've had several enquiries from around the country for delivery, because some of the products are quite difficult to get.

Your background before the deli was a little different...
I worked in consultancy prior to setting up, for a firm in South Kensington. That was a really different working environment, dealing with big corporates. I've now gone completely to the other end of the spectrum in a tiny little shop with just me, although I am hoping I'll be in a position to hire staff very soon.

Why set up shop in Clerkenwell?
I absolutely adore it around here. I used to work on Red Lion Street in Holborn and would often wander up this way after work. There's so much going on here and the people are so open and receptive to new things. It seemed the perfect fit, and this area, Amwell Street, is a row of completely independent shops, which is so unusual in London now. As soon as I saw this was available, I jumped. It's the exact sort of location I want to be in, surrounded by other inspirational food businesses. It's been a dream, really.

Which other Clerkenwell spots do you frequent?
I've been going to Exmouth Market for a little while now. There's some absolutely fantastic food stuff going on there in the week. And there are incredible restaurants like Morito and Moro, which for a lot of my customers are their staple eating out choice. I also like going down to Leather Lane and the food markets around there.

What are your regulars like?
It's a mix. This area is quite residential, which is a help when you have a shop like this, because it develops a regular customer base. There are quite a lot of young families, people with children, older couples, graduates. I never quite know who's going to come in next - it's always exciting to see who it is and have a chat with them. Although I haven't had any celebrities yet. I'm a bit disappointed! I'm hoping Boris Johnson will walk in. He doesn't live too far away...

37 Amwell Street, EC1R 1UR
www.charlottesfinefoods.com

 

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