The high street in Ladywell is unremarkable and short – little more than a couple of hairdressers, off licences and a few kebab shops. So a corner store painted top to toe in burgundy, with crates of fruit and vegetables out the front, sticks out like the proverbial. Also noticeable is the stream of customers coming in and out of the shop – unusual for Sunday mid-morning in a suburban pocket of south east London.
El’s Kitchen is run by Eleanor Thompson, a long-term Ladywell local, who opened the shop simply because she “just got frustrated with not being able to buy decent food.” The shop is a delicatessen in the true sense of the word, with bowls of self-serve olives, nearly 30 kinds of cheese (much of it British), salamis, homemade dips, fresh bread, and a small selection of cakes and pastries. There’s an encyclopaedic range of larder ingredients, some quite niche, like Shipton Mill chestnut flour and jars of asparagus pâté. But you can also pick up essentials like milk, eggs and butter. Oh, and wine. All crammed into a space the size of an average living room.
Eleanor’s approach is to sell quality foods not carried in nearby supermarkets or convenience stores, with priority given to small, independent, local, seasonal, fairly traded and organic. She gets bacon from Dring’s Butchers and the bread from Paul Rhodes Bakery – both high-end Greenwich-based businesses. The emphasis is on fine food, which means that a lot of the items, while no doubt delicious, are pricey. However Eleanor counters this with reasonably priced basics such as six free range eggs for £1.40, and a litre of Rachel’s Organic milk for £1.15.
Although the shop has only been open since November last year, it’s no case of overnight success, as Eleanor devoted five years of meticulous planning to ensure the business’ viability. She put her marketing background to good use – surveying people in the street to find out what they wanted. They wanted fresh fruit and vegetables: “We’re pretty much the only fresh fruit and veg seller around here.” she says.
Eleanor has also fine-tuned trading hours, so the shop is open from 8am to 8pm Tuesday to Friday (and 8am to 6pm Saturdays). This means hungry commuters returning from Zone 1 can pick up something to cook for the evening meal when they arrive at Ladywell station across the road. And opening at 9am – 4pm on Sundays – that’s a rarity in London and devotion indeed.
El’s Kitchen, 71 Ladywell Road SE13 7JA
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