Behind the scenes at Woodford Green’s The Broadway Deli & Grocery

As Jan walked into the shop, something felt right about the place

As Jan walked into the shop, something felt right about the place - Credit: Archant

Since arriving in Woodford Green just over a year ago, The Broadway Deli & Grocery has become a mecca for local foodies and speaking to its passionate owner, Jan Robijns, it’s easy to see why

Jan has gone from running a large wholesale food company to doing what he loves most

Jan has gone from running a large wholesale food company to doing what he loves most - Credit: Archant

Can you tell us a bit about your career prior to The Broadway Deli & Grocery?

After initially working in journalism, marketing and PR, I started in the food industry about 12 years ago, landing my first job in Greece. I moved there from Paris to become export development manager for the country's largest honey company. It was a great job which took me to all the corners of the world, visiting incredibly wonderful and inspiring places when it comes to food and drink. In that period I met numerous small producers and became inspired by their wonderful produce - oils, sauces, wines, baked goods, natural and organic products. It raised my awareness of the beauty of artisan food and drink and made me aware of the importance of how and what we eat.

Who has inspired you?

Some of the most inspirational people I've met have been those that have struggled the hardest. For example, I have met many fabulous farmers, but they aren't marketeers and this day and age requires you to be both. So these people produce, let's say, a fabulous olive oil, but have no clue how to market it, how to get it out there, what to do with their investment of time and money. These people have worked day and night and have created an actual change in the marketplace, but often with setbacks and sometimes financial ruin. These are stories that are usually untold, which is where we try to make a difference - to tell the story of the product and the producer.

How did the store come about?

A couple of years back I bought an existing wholesale food business which was a fairly sizeable operation with 70 staff, around 15,000 products, our own manufacturing plant, a large online store and supplying about a thousand shops around the country. After having spent years on the road, talking to shopkeepers, producers and the general public about fine foods, I suddenly found myself in meeting rooms, answering questions and generally managing the day-to-day running of the business. As inspiring as this all was, I felt that it wasn't where I wanted to be. I had some ideas about my next venture, including a physical store in which I could celebrate the food and drink I love and its producers. And so I went on a search for the right place. One day I had to be at my accountants and saw a shop for sale in nearby Woodford Green which tickled my interest. As I walked into the shop, something felt right about the place and I immediately knew that I could do something with it.

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How would you describe what you do?

'A free story with every purchase' is the slogan my best friend came up with. He pointed out how enthusiastic I am about where our products come from and that he always loves to listen to me talking about them. Basically, we have tried to make a shop where we would like to come. I like good, honest food, so that's what we try to offer. Everything we stock, we try, which is a great job when you consider that we have about 1,600 products and a few hundred wines. Where possible we stock organic, but certain products such as wild honey, can't be certified. The same for small producers, who simply can't afford the certification, but produce without using pesticides.

What about customer service?

Customer service is the other most important thing for the store. We listen to our customers and try to be there for the community by stocking those things for which people otherwise have to go in to town or to Italy or online. In our store we cover our customer's daily groceries, every day fresh baked organic bread and sourdough, sandwiches, fine wines, local produce, body and personal care, household items cheeses, sliced meats and fresh Monmouth coffee.

I hear the coffee is very popular...

When we opened, just over a year ago, we served 15 coffees a day, mostly take-away. Now we brew about 115 coffees each day. People are willing to miss their trains for us, it seems, or they rise a bit earlier to get our coffee in case it is busy. There's always a crowd coming in to sit down for a coffee and a chat. One of the most gratifying things is that we very often notice that neighbours meet each other and sometimes speak with each other for the first time in our store. We have seen friendships begin, even some love stories.

Can you tell us about the tastings you hold?

We try to organise regular tastings, as a lot of the products can be a bit intimidating at first as they are unknown. So we let people taste to understand why we have stocked the product. Almost anything on our shelves is by our recommendation and therefore I am never afraid to promise that you can come back for a replacement if you don't like what we've suggested. Have you tweaked or changed the shop much over the year you've been running?

We have mainly been reaffirming our mission, to give people a great experience and great products. We have increased our wine offering quite a bit, which is a constantly growing part of the shop's offering, as we are meeting more and more wonderful importers and producers.

What would you say distinguishes the products generally at The Broadway Deli & Grocery?

A rigorous vetting process. We want to stay fresh, for people to discover something new each time. We also offer quite a bit of plant-based and vegan produce, as well as products to cover specific dietary needs, such as low sugar, gluten free, etc. Our main rule is that whatever we stock needs to taste good.

How involved are you in the day to day sourcing of products?

I can be pretty OCD, so no product hits our shelves without a really strong argument. Our manager, Siobhan, has a tendency to come up with stuff that makes me shiver at first, but then she usually hits the nail on the head and makes me discover something well out of my comfort zone, like sesame sprinkled seaweed crisps.

What qualities do you look for in a supplier?

Consistency of service and support for the effort we put in. If we work with you, you can be assured we will do our utmost to be the best advocate and ambassador of your products. But it has to be a two-way street. We usually start from the position where we will prove that we are a good customer. And once we have established that, I like to see that we work as partners to grow what we do. A good example is our collaboration with Michal of the Home Organic Bakery. He bakes our bread and makes our sandwiches fresh every day. We have worked closely together to make it beneficial for everyone, from our customers to ourselves. We keep increasing the number of products he bakes and we sell and yet it is so well managed that we hardly ever have excess stock. Michal helps out with sampling and is often in the store, available to customers, to talk about his work and how the bread is made. That is perfect and good fun as well. How would you describe your management style?

I can't help but drawing parallels with Basil Fawlty. Luckily we have our own Polly in our manager Siobhan, and my love in life, Maria, makes for an uncanny Sybil.

How do you unwind after a hard day's work?

We have a 10-month-old baby. Whatever happens during the day fades when I come home and see her. Aside from that, listening to Maria, who admittedly is usually right about things - we share a love for food and relaxing together when we can. Also, getting together with friends and playing music (I play piano) is quite a joy for me.

Would you recommend running you own deli and grocery?

No. Or at least not in the vicinity of my shop please. Terrible idea!

Can you name the three top qualities needed to be a good at what you do?

Passion, determination and common sense. That's two out of three are covered.

The Broadway Deli & Grocery, 9 The Broadway, Woodford Green, IG8 0HL. 020 8215 0982