Published: 29/12/2020 By Emma FildesMany dream of owning their own business but rarely do. Sophie Taylor, the owner of The Deli Downstairs had no idea in 2019 that she’d shortly be running her own business and within months navigating it through a pandemic.
Working full time as MD of the artisan bakery, The Flour Station, as a single mum, Sophie knew that she would need greater flexibility to accommodate the school schedule with Reception looming. If there was ever a time to be her own boss, now was it. But how and where?
By chance she found herself talking to one of her customers, Sarah, who having set up the Deli Downstairs ten years previously with her husband Theo, was reluctantly about to close up shop, having failed to find a buyer for the business. A local resident herself, Sophie couldn’t quite believe this ideal opportunity had suddenly presented itself. Fate seemed to be smiling on her till she realised that she had barely a week to secure the deal before they shut for good. Others may have baulked at the prospect; customers, employees and suppliers had all been told of the demise of the deli, she would not only have to secure it financially but resurrect those contacts within days. Defying all the odds she pulled it off, losing only a few members of staff who had already found employment elsewhere.
“It was really important to Sarah and Theo that I wanted to honour their vision and in return, I inherited a huge amount of goodwill and support both from them and their loyal customers.”
Four months into the business, the pandemic struck, “Obviously, I feared the worst but the locals and staff were amazing. We rearranged the shop to create space, reintroduced fresh fruit and veg and squeezed in more stock wherever we could.”
The beauty of independent businesses is that, unlike the big stores who have long supply chains and complicated procurement procedures, small shops can quickly adapt to customers’ requirements. Nappies and Soda Stream canisters were brought in, yes, soda stream! “I couldn’t believe it, it’s one of our best selling items!” Sophie laughs at my incredulous expression, “A customer requested it once, so I bought some in and they sold out in days. Now I can’t get enough of them! I tried to identify where there were gaps. People were anxious and there were queues everywhere so I wanted to create a local one-stop-shop that was safe which people could rely on to get everything they needed.”
Constantly reactive, The Deli learnt of shielding customers unable to get deliveries from the supermarkets so they began taking orders and delivering by bike around the area. If anyone is struggling to get out, they can visit www.thedelidownstairs.co.uk and place an order for next day delivery or collection.
Always nimble and attentive, as lockdown lifted she looked to Pasta Next Door, the pop-up restaurant adjacent to the Deli which had been temporarily repurposed as an overflow stock room.
“It’s near impossible to know what is going to happen one day to the next right now so I decided to make the restaurant into a more flexible space that could morph into whatever was needed in the here and now.”
So what do your customers need right now? “Wine! No seriously, it occurred to me that there aren’t many places where you can go without having to make a reservation for dinner. The pubs are all full, money is tight and arranging a babysitter for a whole evening is expensive but what if you had somewhere round the corner where you could enjoy a good glass of wine, pick on some charcuterie and cheese and it be Covid safe.”
Whatever the future holds it is clear that Sophie will approach it with great humour, nimbleness and a positive attitude. The local community in Victoria Park have already made her Deli a staple, in no time I’m sure you will be a convert.
The Deli Downstairs is situated on 211 Victoria Park Rd, Hackney, London E9 7JN