Founders James Brundle and Chris O’Connor (who also happen to be step brothers and lifelong friends), grew up close to the first Eat17 store in Walthamstow. We caught up with them to find out how their infamous bacon jam came about, how they managed to make a grocery store sexy and what’s in store for the brand.
For anyone that isn’t familiar with Eat17, give us the lowdown. How did it come about?
We started Eat 17 from a little off licence on Orford Road in Walthamstow back in 2006 and our aim was to create a convenience store that was nothing like your average supermarket. We wanted to inject energy, theatre and a vast array of interesting foodie delights sourced predominantly from local suppliers and used this as our fundamental. We were always keen on starting our own thing and this was a perfect fit. One of us would stay on the till whilst the other went to cash and carries in the day. We would then both be on the till in time for the evening rush, with some added help from James’ cousin Dan and Vimala who we employed upon taking over the store. It was a hugely exciting period for us and we learnt loads of lessons in the first couple of years. Before we knew it, 12 years had passed.
Did growing up in Walthamstow, have an impact on opening the first store there? Tell us about your background?
We grew up in Walthamstow and lived the other side of Lea Bridge Road on Peterborough Road just up near Wood Street. The area has changed a lot over the years and the village especially has the kind of buzzy vibe we wanted to be part of – almost like a tourist hot spot where people from surrounding areas come to have a wander.
Do you have any nightmare start-up stories you care to share?
We started the business when we were very young so we have made plenty of mistakes along the way and have probably had hundreds of embarrassing moments. Eat 17 is all about innovation and this means trying new things all the time, putting thought into it and launching it well, but if it doesn’t work we don’t dwell on it.
The first year really opened our eyes to shoplifters and troublemakers and at the beginning it felt like we had an incident a day, it really opened our eyes to the potential risk of these things happening.
So, why food?
Good food has always been at the heart of what Eat 17 does, quality comes before anything else -whether we get a new product into one of the stores or put a new dish on the menu. The fact that co-founder Chris is a chef has given us a massive advantage over what we do in the stores as it needs to be the best.
What does Eat17 mean to you? What keeps you motivated and inspired?
Eat 17 has evolved over the years, it started with two guys who had bundles of energy and lots of ideas with a passion for the best food and sourcing locally where possible. Eat 17 has started a mini revelation within the independent retail sector and our customers are extremely passionate about the brand as they trust us, this is massive motivation for us to ensure everything is the best it can be.
We have never had a set plan for the business; it has grown very quickly over the last few years especially and will continue to do so as long as there is a demand for our concept. Most importantly, we still have the same passion we had 11 years ago when we started the business in a run-down convenience store.
What advice would you give to young foodies aspiring to achieve what you have?
Set out to be different, ensure you have a USP and work harder than your competition.
We stock 3,000 products in each of our stores – many from local suppliers to that specific area so it would be impossible to pick one, but something we have just recently launched is our own instore bakery specialising in sourdough bread, this compliments our Eat 17 ready meal range made by skilled chefs which is going very well.
Where do you think food is most exciting right now? What’s your favourite restaurant in London?
London must be up there with the best cities for food.
It’s so easy to get street food, gastro pub food, tapas, Asian and Michelin quality food too. Chick ‘n’ Sours is usually always top of our list of weekend go-to places, Trullo for something more intimate and The Pig and Butcher in Islington does a great Sunday roast.
In town, Barrafina is always up there and more recently Kiln restaurant, Hoppers Soho and The Barbary are great, we’ve visited a couple of times. Honey and Co in Warren St on the Victoria line never lets you down – it’s like proper comfort food cooked by mum, always delicious.
Earliest food memory?
Our mates mum is an amazing cook and when we went to his house she’d cook burgers with homemade red onion marmalade and posh cheese and I just remember this meal blew our mind as an 11-year-old haha.
Awww, cute! Is there any food that makes you super happy or makes the blood boil?
Happy food would be Nutella, ice cream, freshly baked donuts and pastries, fried chicken, Thai curries and butter.
Angry – not much really, we don’t really like liquorice especially in cooking, and over-cooked pasta, rice or veggies is kind of annoying.
Can you tell us about your Team?
We’ve got a great core team and a lot of them have been with us for years and years.
Aghmane in the kitchen has been with us for 8 years and is a bundle of energy, he’s the kind of guy you just love to have around because he makes everyone happy, he’s such a positive person and has been an amazing influence on Eat 17. Andrew, Sue, Hayley, Dee, Giuseppe, Marcin and Saskia all deserve special mentions. They’ve been extremely important in their areas of the business and we couldn’t have done it without these special team players who are the glue for the whole Eat17 network.
And finally, what exciting plans do you have in the pipeline?
Apart from opening our new stores in Hammersmith and Leytonstone this year which are huge, we are also launching our own range of donuts, Natas, brownies and pastries with a pastry wizard called Remi.
We’re looking forward to being in control of our own supply of these and offering our customers warm, fresh donuts with Nutella, rhubarb and custard. And a unique range of Natas – pistachio, salted caramel and espresso. Croissants and pastries will be made in house as well and we expect some special ones with bacon and chorizo jam.
Yum, we can’t wait to try those! Thanks for taking the time to chat boys; we didn’t think it was possible to love Eat17 more but looks like we were wrong!