An interview with the humble greengrocer

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Ever fresh, ever green

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The humble greengrocer is a stalwart of London life, where price and quality often put supermarkets to shame. MFR on Chatsworth Road is a greengrocer that has stood the test of time – and changing demographics – and is one of a handful of places in Clapton that serves all walks of life. Robbie de Santos talks to Meral Karakas.

Tell us the story behind MFR.

My dad (Tim Karakas) took over MFR six years ago. Before, it was owned by the four brothers who own Star Discount Store – they had it for 10 years. The name MFR comes from the initials of the first owner’s three sons. We didn’t change the name, the layout or the sign – everyone’s used to it being the same.

What’s a typical day like running the shop?
Dad goes to New Spitalfields Market every night apart from Saturday. He gets up at 02:00 – the earlier he goes, the fresher the veg is. He’ll spend three or four hours there. The rest of us get here at 07:00 to start setting up.

We close at 19:30. It’s always the way that as soon as the lights go off people will rush in for their last bits and pieces. If we’re still packing up then of course we’ll serve them – about 80% of our regulars do this, so we can’t really say no!

There’s seven of us in total working here. We all live locally and we’ve been doing this for a long time, so we’re used to the hard work. We’re also really lucky with our customers. They show an interest in us and ask where you’ve been if they haven’t seen you for a few days. It doesn’t feel like coming into work, even though the hours are long.

How has Clapton changed over the years?
There have been quite a few changes in our customer base. There are people with more money that have moved to the area. We still have the customers that have been coming in for years, each with their own routine – a certain day, a certain hour, you know their name and they know yours – it’s like a big family.

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Have you changed the kind of produce you stock?
We try to bring in organic produce due to increased demand, but prices are higher and it goes off more quickly – you need to sell it quick or it’s not worth it.
The vegetables change with every season. In September we have damson coming in, we get more pumpkins in October and summer is all about the berries. If there is something that a number of customers request we’ll order it and see how it goes. It can be hit and miss though! Chard’s been really successful – we had a few people ask for that, so we brought it in and we’ll definitely get it again. Sorrel’s popular too – Rushmore School bring that in for us. We often try new products thinking, “will it sell”? But you have to buy it and see what happens.

Has the Sunday market changed your business?
When there was talk of it initially, dad didn’t think it would be good for us. Sundays used to be dead, but now we’re busy from 12:00 until 17:00. On Sundays we don’t see so many locals, it’s more new faces who are here for the market. The locals tend to stick to Saturday or Monday to avoid the Sunday rush.

You’ve recently created a Facebook page – what brought that on?
The Facebook page was my brother-in-law Seref Aydin’s idea. It’s to show people what we have available, so if there’s something interesting or different that we’ve brought in we’ll post it there. We’ve had a good response so far – we had these interesting tomatoes come in, and someone commented saying they really liked them and we should get them in all the time. We had purple carrots on the page once, which surprised a lot of people!

There have been quite a lot of new shops opening recently – do you worry about the competition?
Competition is always good – it keeps you on your toes! We watch what everyone else is doing. When Spar opened we didn’t think it was going to be much competition because what we do is different. In their first week it was a bit quieter here because everyone was interested in Spar, but now they’ve seen the prices and what they have on offer, they come back to MFR and tell us there’s nothing to worry about.

With the new organic shop [Organico], we do think there’s a big demand for it. But price is a big factor in people’s shopping. People say they’d love to have organic, but when they see the price they often still go for the non-organic version.

How do you see your business developing in the future?
Change is always good. If you move along with it, that’s how your business develops. We will keep some things the same, because that’s what our regular customers know and like, but we need to cater for new generations too.

You can find MFR at 64-66 Chatsworth Road, London E5 0LS

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