Two years ago the former Castle Cinema site on Brooksby’s Walk, in Homerton, East London - slap in the middle of ‘Murder Mile’ - was a wreck. But the team behind the highly acclaimed Eat 17 Spar in Walthamstow looked at the property and, despite its sorry state, instantly fell in love with it, recalls co-founder James Brundle. “Tesco were weeks away from signing on the dotted line so we were really fortunate,” he says.
It took the Eat 17 team - Brundle, Chris and Daniel O’Connor and Siobhan O’Donnell - longer than expected to convert the two-storey building, and it went over budget, but in May the store opened and sales have exceeded expectations by 60%, according to Brundle.
“With the reputation the area had we knew it was a bit risky, but it’s an up-and-coming place and it’s changed a lot in a short space of time,” he says.
This gentrification has given the team the confidence to create an ambitious offer, comprising a burger bar and Spar store on the 4,400 sq ft ground floor, while on the upper floor there’s a new restaurant, with plans in the longer term to open a private cinema too.
The Eat 17 team have tweaked the template from Walthamstow (around 10-15 minutes away), switching from pizzas to burgers because a pizza restaurant opened nearby a few weeks before launch, and adapting to the unique properties of the building.
The first impression is a light and airy feel thanks to a high roof space and antique fixtures with LED lighting supplied by Cross Group.
On either side of a long entrance ramp that projects shoppers into the store, Eat 17 has sub-let space to contemporary florists Rebel Rebel. while the burger bar at the bottom of the ramp sells a small menu of superbly executed posh nosh including buttermilk chicken burger with paprika chips and ales from a local craft brewer.
Next to this is the baked goods section selling cakes, pastries and fresh bread. “All the bread is baked by hand from scratch and we sell tons,” says Brundle - he estimates around 300 loaves during the week, with more than 1,000 loaves at weekends. The fresh produce aisle is located directly opposite and is well stocked and displayed. A small frozen section sells branded basics. But it’s the chilled offer that separates Eat 17 from other operators. “We sell stuff you won’t find in Tesco or other supermarkets,” says Brundle.
While Eat 17 uses Spar as its main supplier for larger branded items and its own-label budget range, around 20% of the store’s c2,000 items are sourced from small local operators, such as the falafel wraps from Hoxton Beach, with a further 20% from small producers. “We get around 50 new products in a week - it’s a real mix,” says Brundle. “That’s what makes us different. We see what we like and if we like it we get it in and try it.”
Eat 17 also produces its own in-house fresh ready meals while its incredibly successful bacon Jam (which you will find in supermarkets) has a gondola end of its own. The store sources its premium end wine from Borough Wines and stocks a diverse range of craft beer from local and overseas breweries - pour-your-own wine and olive oil are also on offer from casks.
The team have been delighted with the performance. “In the morning it’s quite quiet. Around 1.30pm we get a big rush for about an hour. For the rest of the afternoon it’s a consistent flow of business, but then in the evening it gets hammered.”
Average basket spend is just under £10. Footfall is fuelled by the burger bar and restaurant, which has received rave reviews from critics. In the Evening Standard’s review Grace Dent also gave the food store a glowing write-up. “I defy you to pop into this Spar for a pint of milk - it does normal products, too - without buying a jar of Chorizo Jam, two bespoke blueberry flapjacks from Walthamstow, a bottle of elderflower vodka and some Cornish honey-washed organic ewe’s cheese,” gushed Dent.
Such praise is music to Brundle’s ears. “Everyone thought this place wouldn’t work but look at it,” he says.
Although he doesn’t rule out opening more stores, for the time being at least the focus is on making sure the new store is 100% perfect. “It’s almost there, but we’ve got our hands full running all this,” he beams.