Welcome to our Shop St James Street initiative, a project generously supported by St James Street Big Local. We’re encouraging readers to shop local, shining a light on local business vendors. First up, Bella Saltiel meets the manager of St J’s Deli and Café…
St J’s Deli and Café opened in 2019, is the brainchild of University friends Lynsey and Louise – two foodies local to Walthamstow who wanted to make “a welcome space for the community to share”.
Two years on – and one pandemic in – it’s already making waves as a showroom for local artisans. Speaking to Sophie Baker, St J’s manager since September 2020, and it quickly becomes clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken St J’s in a totally different direction from where it started, purely as a café and restaurant.
Once described as ‘your local larder to raid’, St J’s today sells all of the artisanal food and drink products you can’t find in a larger supermarket. When buying for St J’s, Sophie likes to emphasise both local and seasonal produce by working with farmers from Kent.
The Deli fridge is full of locally cured meats and fish from Rebel Cures, who use biodegradable packaging. They’re also stocking fruit and vegetables from biodynamic farms, which prefer to use a horse and cart over machines. For Sophie, food systems remain a delicate web – and by utilising the shop floor to champion the producers, consumers have an opportunity to consider the journey their food has taken.
Coming from a Michelin star hospitality background, manager Sophie admits that working in a café is a much riskier business. In her previous line of work, everything was planned. Now when she orders a selection of flower bulbs, there’s always that chance people won’t buy them. Still, the risk seems to be part of the mechanism that makes this café/deli so popular: try something new and keep the stock rotating as the seasons change.
In tandem with the time of the year, Sophie changes the look of the shop. It’s mulled wine and handmade decorations in winter, before spring brings bunches of flowers grown in a Walthamstow-based flower farm. For International Women’s Day this March, St J’s showcased the work of emerging artist Juliana Futter. Sophie says she loved how Futter worked with “the language of gender” creating candles and images celebrating “the female body”.
Products that have tangible back stories are particularly popular. St J’s are now stocking Redemption Roastery coffee beans, which have been roasted inside prisons as part of an initiative to provide workable skills to offenders, who can then go on to work in the coffee industry after completing their sentence.
Baked goods come from the likes of Olivia Benbanaste (Liv’s Baked Goods) – an Eleven Madison Park-trained baker whose babka, börekitas and must-try açmas are inspired by her heritage. Croissants and sourdough are made by Wood Street favourite Chocolatine Bakery, the closest to the Côte d’Azur you can get this side of the M25.
Looking to 2021 and beyond, Sophie is excited about the way the business is growing. Creating connections between people making beautiful things around the borough, St J’s has transformed into a thriving hub for independent businesses. They may be new, but St J’s has made a dent on St James’ Street and, without a doubt, they will keep on inspiring us to shop locally and seasonally for years to come.
To learn more, visit St J’s official website
Sophie is promoting St J’s Vegetable Boxes. You can now buy Shrub Provisions boxes for £23 a week, serving up a selection of tasty seasonal organic vegetables from Kent’s ethical farmers