When a couple of weeks ago we said to each other, ‘What do you remember most about our first year?’ we both had the same reply: ‘It’s all a bit of a blur!’.
Well, with some downtime on holiday, the standout moments emerged out of that blur: the good, the not so good as well as the unexpected.
We couldn’t have asked for a more generous hand over from Luis and Penny at the start. We knew people were pleased we were still going to be ‘The Olive Shop’ but that didn’t stop us wondering, ‘Will they still come in? And if they come in, will they come back?’.
And for my part, all fingers and thumbs with deli pots and punching till keys, I worried whether I’d ever get into the serving flow. You did come in, thank you. You did come back, thank you. And just to note it was Martin that dropped the deli pot full of olives (and olive oil of course) onto, and therefore into, the till just before Christmas…
We said from the get-go we wanted to ‘honour and add’ to what Luis and Penny had built up over many years.
So yes, we’ve still got ‘The best selection of olives west of Bristol’ and have also increased three-fold the diversity of foods from Mediterranean countries, as well as developing the ‘Made by us’ range, including, of course, fresh pasta from ‘The Man of the Flour’. Salamis, coffee, tinned fish, cakes and pastries have all worked well – but baba ghanoush? No, that didn’t go down well at all.
And while neither of us has run an actual shop before, we seem to continue to draw on every aspect of our varied work histories to make things work. Martin has had so many roles in the food sector (food safety, marketing, project managing to name but a few as well as cooking of course) and I’ve transferred arts management skills into retail, as well as even drawing on my past English teaching life for Dickensian night. Did you know that straight after Dickens has written A Christmas Carol, he went to live in Italy and that he had a jug decorated with olives on his writing table?
Christmas was amazingly busy (Luis warned us) and we certainly needed that daughter-helper relay alongside our great assistant Ashleigh. Then came a couple of quieter months with time on Mondays to get through the shop re-modelling plans – and also visit Martin’s poorly mother. It is such a sadness that she never got to see us in the shop or fulfil her role as the ‘Yorkshire Nonna’.
And then came coronavirus. All change. How to carry on? How to turn the ‘winter warmers’ Mediterranean stews into a dine at home version of the Friday Saturday Nights dinner club Martin has always wanted to run? We set up the home delivery business in a week (of course Martin’s experience at Riverford was very helpful here and I was taken back to my first job working for social services and planning meals on wheels routes!). Thank goodness we ticked the ‘online shop’ function when we bought the website package. All items up on the site within two weeks. Three months of just delivering – good decision to buy a van suitable for the job – then a ‘mixed economy’, with gradually opening up the shop, increasing the days and hours, before being shop only (at least for now). It’s a very different tempo with the one-in-at-a-time necessity and we appreciate your patience as we try to balance the talking and the queuing.
And as for the unexpected – well, people have come in asking for pasties and Caribbean curry sauce (two separate requests, in case you were wondering) and we found out one of our customers is the cousin of the husband of one of my oldest friends (from the age of four).
That may have been a particular sort of ‘small world’ moment. We’re also now a definitely different world. What hasn’t changed is our determination as Tavistock’s Mediterranean deli to stay with our values of great taste, provenance and slow food.
Despite the challenges, we’ve had an amazing first year. We’ve got to know you as customers, sharing great cooking experiences and tips. We thank you so much for all your support and look forward to keeping going on great food journeys with you.