The real meaning of Public House
Ealing's local pub has innovated to stay afloat, but in the process, has rediscovered something greater By Laura Gaga
Idon't know whether it's lockdown, modern technology, too many hours lost scrolling on my Instagram feed, but I hear community and my mind goes to the online kind. That's where I know @nutriyourself from, Instagram, my online community, known in the real world community as Agnieszka Dopichaj (nutriyourself.co.uk).
She is a nutritional chef whose culinary skills extend to making granola for her plant-based son and his friends to support their exercise regimes. Agnieszka finds many brands can lack flavour and wanted to be sure that the boys were getting tasty granola with good amounts of protein and fats.
It then happened that the father of a friend of her son's had turned his pub, The Red Lion, in Ealing in West London, into a community store following the first lockdown, and invited Agnieszka to sell her granola there.
It wasn't just a hit with her son and his training buddies, but it began selling out in the store. She sent me a sample and I can vouch to it tasting delicious!
It's been amazing to see Agnieszka's granola expand from her house to being sold in a public house, it also had me wanting to know more about how The Red Lion found such an innovative way to keep serving locals, so I got in touch with owner Edin Basic.
Edin explained that he was unable to sit still after having to close his pub following the first lockdown in March 2020.
He decided to reopen as a community store and got in touch with local fruit and vegetable suppliers, a deli, other traders, and by May they were selling alcohol, pasta, pastries, chutneys, bakery goods, vegan pastries, cakes and more.
Edin, who founded Firezza before selling it to Pizza Express in 2016, now owns Pizza Madre (@pizzamadreuk) and sells the pizza from the community store.
Edin has been vegan for almost two years and tells me that the around 30 per cent of the menu is vegan with plans for this to increase.
By opening the community store, and with the government's furlough scheme, Edin has managed to retain all of his staff since the pandemic; he hopes to keep the store going until they can operate as a pub again.
Edin shared that they make no profit but tells me that was never the goal, it was about being able to support the local community: \"The community is at the heart of everything we do.\"
Such an enterprise has enabled other independent, small businesses, sellers like Nutri Yourself to be able to trade; they are given free spaces at The Red Lion.
Edin mentioned a caterer, whose work ended abruptly with the lockdown, has been able to sell their produce at the store.
Edin tells me that it has also benefited him and the pub as it widened custom and kept him motivated and focused during a challenging and unprecedented time.
Edin reflected on the way in which his relationships with customers has changed - when operating as a pub it would be too busy, too loud to exchange much more than pleasantries with customers.
A quieter community store with fewer customers, social distancing, a global pandemic in which we are all affected, has brought about far more meaningful conversations, greater connections between traders, customers, asking one another how they are and how they are coping.
For some customers this could be the only form of in-person contact that they are having with another. This must have also been such a great way of reducing food waste, I asked Edin presumptuously.
\"Truthfully, we have struggled with food waste,\" Edin admitted. He shared how he thought it would be as simple as being able to give away surplus food to those in need.
Whilst they do give away surplus to the homeless and more vulnerable members of society, Edin even sharing with his neighbours, there have been challenges of charities and hostels being unable to collect, and the pub not routinely in a position to deliver.
Also, much of what they sell is fresh, perishable produce that needs to be sold the same day or next, such as the homemade pizzas. Even if they could store it, there would be the issue of it needing to be reheated, explained Edin.
They tried partnering with food waste app Too Good to Go (toogoodtogo.co.uk) but experienced people not showing up for their food orders.
Edin, has found that there has been slower custom during this most recent lockdown; possibly the colder weather, and the greater fatigue of a lockdown which has gone on for the best part of a year. I was not the first to suggest The Felix Project to Edin (thefelixproject.org).
Food waste and food poverty charity, The Felix Project, collect and redistribute surplus food to those in need and with a depot in Park Royal they are on The Red Lion's doorstep, within their local community you might even say!
Edin promised to make more effort to get in touch with them as we said our goodbyes on the phone. Don't worry, I'll be following up with him in person; there is a vegan salted caramel and chocolate gateaux that I've been eyeing up on their Instagram feed!
Visit their website at redlionealing.com and follow their Instagram @redlionealing.