Gabby Bennett never had ambitions to run a grocery store. During a corporate career spanning more than 20 years, she had thought about opening a shop selling antiques or homeware, not food and drink.

But in the four years since she and her husband Max opened Basil & Tom’s in west London, she has developed a passion for grocery and is proud of what the shop means to its local community. Last year, the couple’s work was recognised by a Farm Shop & Deli Retailer Award.

At the time they launched the business, Gabby had been working in PR for Sky Television for 22 years, while Max was a caterer in the film industry.

“He’d been looking for something else to do, because it was very gruelling having to turn up to a film location at 3am to cook for 150 people,” she explains.

After ruling out a restaurant or café because of high risks, they found a shop for rent on Churchfield Road, just five minutes from their home in Acton.

“My husband said: ‘There isn’t really an old-fashioned grocery shop on this road; so, why don’t we see whether we can make a go of it?’,” says Bennett. “We opened the shop three months later, and it coincided with me leaving Sky through redundancy. So, it was a good time for me to do something completely different.”

Finding suppliers required a lot of legwork, with the couple going to markets to determine who they would buy fresh produce from and visiting shops across London and the south east for inspiration. The situation is different now, with suppliers often approaching Basil & Tom’s.

“I think winning the Farm Shop & Deli Retailer Award has helped new, interesting suppliers find out about us,” Bennett says.

Today, suppliers include Paul Rhodes Bakery for sourdough, Neal’s Yard for cheese, Brindisa for Spanish goods, La Credenza for Italian products, Repertoire Culinaire for French lines, and Cacklebean Eggs. Fresh produce is from Western International Market near Heathrow.


The couple initially ran the shop alongside Max’s catering business, but the pandemic brought a dramatic change to both operations. With film production brought to a halt by Covid restrictions, trade at Basil & Tom’s soared.

“When the pandemic hit, business kind of exploded for us,” says Bennett. “We’d already started doing a delivery service on a small scale when we opened, and then overnight our deliveries went through the roof.”

The shop was temporarily repurposed to accommodate the service, which at its height delivered up to 1,000 orders a week.

“As time went on and things opened up, the deliveries scaled back substantially,” she adds. “We still deliver, but the mainstay of our business is through the door.”

In 2021, Basil & Tom’s expanded by taking on the lease of a former butcher’s shop next door.

“We sell meat in there, but we’re not a full butcher,” Bennett says. “We buy our meat from HG Walter, a very high-quality butcher in west London. We also do a bit of food to take away, such as lunches and soups, and make hot salt beef bagels on the weekend.”

Although Bennett spent more than 20 years in public relations, she doesn’t feel a traditional approach to PR works for Basil & Tom’s.

“The thing that really moves the dial is social media,” she explains. “We have an Instagram account and post on that a few times a week, which keeps us in touch with our local customer base so they know what we’re doing.”

As well as day-to-day postings about produce on sale, Basil & Tom’s films recipes for online. Email marketing is also part of the mix; the business has a database of customers it informs about produce.


Around 18 months ago,  the business expanded into homeware, which reflects a long-held ambition of Bennett’s.

“I’d always wanted to open a shop,” she says. “I was interested antiques and things to do with the home; so, I thought it might be something like that.”

Basil & Tom’s homeware range, which includes plates, dinnerware and knives, sells relatively slowly but offers benefits.

The products “obviously don’t have a shelf life,” notes Bennett. “So, it’s not so risky, and they are great presents. People buy them at Christmas or for birthdays. They also look really nice in the window.”

Expansions such as homeware and takeaway food give people more reasons to come in, which is important for a store with a very local customer base that travels just a mile or two to visit.

“The road we’re on has come up quite a lot in the last few years, but it’s still not a destination shopping street,” says Bennett. “It needs a couple more businesses, maybe a bookshop or a clothing shop, so people will want to come and spend a couple of hours mooching about Churchfield Road.”

Balancing Basil & Tom’s stock with what is profitable can be difficult but is particularly important at a time of soaring costs. “I think we need to be a bit more ruthless about getting rid of things where they’re just not selling quickly,” she adds.

Indeed, the business has stopped selling some goods that proved too expensive. “When we opened the second shop, we stocked fish from a great fisherman in Cornwall, and people loved it. But the price of fish is so volatile, and there were some weeks we were left with it because people just weren’t prepared to pay.”

Despite the considerable pressures on the business, Bennett is proud of what she and Max have created and loves being in the shop. “I’ve got to know so many people and develop friendships with all these people from different walks of life and different ages, whio I wouldn’t ordinarily have kind of come into contact with, and I really enjoy that.”

She is also delighted to have made a good addition to the street. “People often compliment us on what the shop looks like and how cheerful it is. It’s nice to feel like we’ve contributed something to the local area.”