Dig In, one year in

Dig In, 229 Church Road, Redfield

Alex Thompson, a chippy, originally from Bradford and his girlfriend Chloe Lester, a youth worker from Bristol, took on the lease to 229 Church Road exactly a year ago and after three weeks of hard preparation, their new shop ‘Dig In’ opened its doors for the first time on 25 September 2010. The premises had been closed since Easter that year. When Chloe and Alex moved to Redfield from the Gloucester Road they found that there were far fewer local shopping options so they decided to do something about it!

Dig In sells a tasty selection of fruit & vegetables alongside a range of other food and drink, where they can sourcing locally: apple juices; jams, chutneys and honey from Keynsham; eggs from Chew Valley; ‘Lovely’ fizzy drinks from Barrow Gurney; various fruit vinegars plus 56 different types of dried herbs and flower teas (hibiscus, rose hip, lime flower, chamomile). They also have a small deli selection which includes amongst others, olives, sundried tomatoes and wheat free cous cous.

Chloe and Alex are passionate about variety and try to find new interesting things to offer their customers whenever they can. In August they had exotic guavas and prickly pears. When in season there’s a selection of wild mushrooms. Chloe has stocked the shop with a set of cookery books for customers to browse and she’s often asked for recipe ideas. Shop space is quite limited, but there’s a plan to expand and be able to offer customers even more.

Who are the customers?
The shop serves the local residents of Redfield – young families, mums & dads on their way to and from school, elderly residents and two local pubs. Redfield has a diverse community to which Dig In tries to cater for, offering people a taste of home and something new to those who wish to try. Chloe runs the vegetable box delivery service which started as an experiment and is now growing. She tries to vary the contents as much as possible and encourages her customers to try new things with the help of recipes for more unusual vegetables. Customers can also request organic vegetable boxes if they would like.

Where does the produce come from?
Much of the fruit and veg comes from Bristol Wholesale Market in St Philips. Alex gets up early and goes to the market at 5.30am six days a week and is there buying produce for the shop until 8am most days before driving back to the shop to unload. Chloe gets to the shop at 6.30 am to start re-stocking the shelves. They buy as much locally grown produce as they can when it’s available. This autumn Alex is sourcing garlic and shallots direct from a Somerset farmer and all the apples will come from an orchard also in Somerset until just after Christmas. Organic produce often comes from Farrington Gurney. Greens and cabbages from Failand /Keynsham – through St Philips wholesale market.

If the wholesale market in St Philips wasn’t there, Alex and Chloe don’t know how they would get enough produce. The market plays a crucial role in their business, as with all the other Bristol green-grocers. Without the market supplying the range of UK and imported produce the shop wouldn’t have much to sell outside the UK growing season – probably only root crops, cabbages, cauliflowers and a few other greens for the winter. Alex and Chloe would either have to close or buy a bigger van, send more on fuel, get up at 3am each day to drive to Birmingham and employ more staff to manage the increased hours. Although Cardiff wholesale market is a bit closer, it is also supplied by St Philips so if St Philips closed, so would Cardiff.

How are things going one year in?
It has been a steep learning curve and long hours. Both Alex and Chloe work 15 hour days. The shop is open 6 days a week, 8am-6.30pm Monday to Thursday, 8am-5.30pm Friday and Saturday – and then another hour to clear up but they are delighted to be running their own business and in control of what they do. The wide range of customers means Chloe and Alex have the opportunity to offer a wide variety of products. Their shop is colourful and interesting. They’ve tried out different stock, some has sold and some hasn’t, if people ask for specific items they try to find them and are always on the look out for new products.

What do you love about your jobs?
‘The business is ours and we can offer something different to what’s available in the supermarkets – tasty things that come from closer to home like the most wonderful Somerset apricots and cherries. Learning more about where our food comes from and all of the things that can effect supply. When you see fruits and veg in supermarkets all the time you forget that they are out of season and shouldn’t be there. We enjoy meeting people and being our own bosses, the colours and the seasons. The interaction our very supportive customers, and a feeling of community.’

What are the biggest challenges?
‘The long hours, the physical work and the cold; trying to remember all the different prices at the wholesale market, as they change every day. Predicting what people buy and therefore what to stock. Last Christmas, the prolonged cold temperatures and snow across Europe affected the supply of various crops, cabbages were frozen solid, leeks unpickable and cauliflowers tripled in price, “We had taken orders and customers were trusting us with their Christmas dinner, we couldn’t not buy them.’

‘One of the hardest things to overcome is the convenience factor. Customers come in with a bag of veg from the Tesco Metro up the road, then buy a bunch of herbs. We wonder why they’ve not bought our veg, we know we are competitive because we regularly do price checks. We would like people to think about their grocers and greengrocers before they go for the convenience of the one-stop shop.’

What would you like Bristol people to know about greengrocers?
‘We work hard. We are here for our customers trying to provide a tailored service. We can respond to requests, offer advice and a friendly service. We are always thinking about our customers and what they need. Go into your local grocer, enjoy the colour, try the variety and meet the passionate people!

Contact Dig In
T: 0117 329 8773

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