Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
Independents are rightfully recognised and appreciated for the passion they bring to the business of selling fine food and drink, but No. 2 Pound Street, the Buckinghamshire-based retailer overseen by former restaurateur James Grant, is deserving of a particular highlight.
Having focused his attention on running restaurants in London for many years, James opened the deli in 2010, balancing both foodservice and retail until a period of ill health led him to take time off and the decision to “come back stronger” and give the shop business his all.
Forging strong relationships with cheesemakers and sharing his excitement for what they do is key to the success of his retail business, and has been an important part of the company’s DNA since launch. His team now sells between 50-60 different cheeses, leaning towards raw milk varieties due to what James describes as a “raw milk bias”.
“Over the last few years I’ve got to know lots of great cheesemakers and have had lots of fun with them,” says James. “During lockdown in particular I’ve forged strong relationships with them, and have spent Mondays and Tuesdays driving to various producers and connecting with them.
“As well as being able to get the profile of cheeses that I want for my shop and customers, and am also able to be genuinely enthused about the cheese that I’m selling.” In some ways, the Covid crisis has sorted the wheat from the chaff and led shoppers to consider what they really want from the cheese they’re buying.
“Jamie Montgomery, of Montgomery’s Cheddar, told me that he believes that consumers have developed a taste for great cheese – they’ve learned to understand it,” James explains. “Supermarkets got it wrong in the first lockdown; their delivery services meant that the majority of consumers got left behind, and so they decided to venture into delicatessens and cheese shops and experience something brand new. “They’re beginning to understand why the cheese we sell costs more than the cheese available in supermarkets – it’s a matter of education and recognition of the true value of cheese.”
This is a mission which James has truly taken to heart. “Cheesemakers are very passionate about what they do, as I am about giving people the very best. For me, It’s all about the people behind the cheese. They’re not sitting back on their yachts and losing sight of what it’s all about, miles away from the grass roots of the cheese they’re selling.”
There are many cheesemakers who don’t want the lifestyle that money brings, James explains, and that’s the kind of cheesemaker he wants to work with and support. “Some cheesemakers are happy to be subsistent,” he says, “and if we all really considered that message and applied to our own lives the world would be a better place.”
By taking the time to engage with customers, sharing the stories behind the cheeses his team sells and making sure that they understand the true value of what they’re buying, James has uncovered an uncompromising route to success. “After I explain the background to a cheese to customers, their eyes are on stalks!” he says.
“People want grass roots – it’s so important that I give them the story and background information they need to entertain their guests around the dinner table while they’re eating the great cheese I sold them.”
As well as bringing team members along for the ride when he visits cheesemakers up and down the UK, James conducts regular cheese tastings with his staff to ensure that they fully understand and appreciate the products they’re selling. “We talk about things like how the cheese is made and the breed of cow that produced the milk, and I share the stories that I gleaned from my conversations and interactions with the cheesemaker. From there, they take the information and share it as they see fit in order to connect with customers.
“I took a team member on a trip recently, and when he returned to the market stall and a customer showed an interest in the cheese he’d just travelled to see made, his eyes lit up! That’s exactly what I want; for my team to be excited about what we sell.”
“If I can inspire a raft of people to support the cheesemakers which make 2-3% of the profit that industrial cheesemakers make, I’ve won. I want to turn the high street back into a proper independent hub, with a cheesemonger, fishmonger, greengrocer and so on. There’s a growing number of people interested in this message at the moment, and it won’t be too long before other businesses start doing what I’ve been doing from the start, but it’s gratifying to know that I was one of the first to do it.”
- James Grant
Stay connected and receive the latest news, analysis and insights from our industry's top commentators