Here we are in 2020, not exactly post-covid but certainly feeling the effects. No-one said it would be easy. Juggling a small, but growing family with running a small food business is challenging at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic!
We have been blessed with having a loyal band of followers for the last few years who have spread the word and helped keep our business going through these tough times. We are very, very grateful. Having lost 90% of our business nearly overnight we are still trucking and re-focusing our energy to serve our online customers as best we can.
Here's how we got to where we are today...
I started the business quite literally from my rickety garden shed in Camberwell, south east London. Having travelled extensively through Scandinavia when I had a proper job I was always a big fan of the different gravalax flavours that were on offer in the restaurants and so I tried to re-create these at home. My trips to Billingsgate fish market became more and more expensive and I started giving an awful lot of cured fish away to friends and family. One thing that became apparent was that people were a lot more receptive to smoked salmon than simply cured, un-smoked salmon and so an old filing cabinet was bought and the paraphernalia to smoke the salmon aquired.
My (now) wife gave me the shove I needed to take on a market stall at our local farmers market and start selling some of our excess supply. The different flavours proved very popular and soon we would be regulars at various markets from Chelsea and Primrose Hill to The Oval and Herne Hill.
We had outgrown our little smokeshack and had to upgrade! What followed was our second smokehouse in the garden, with a kitchen on one side and smoking room on the other. Our neighbours at the time had no idea what was going on until smoked salmon was offered to placate them over the upcoming construction work!
By this point we were supplying Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason as well as lots of other delis in London. Hermione, my wife, went on to hand her notice in and help me out full time as things were getting a little out of hand! I went to a meeting with a well known supermarket who loved the product and the idea. When asked where I was producing it, I answered "a shed at the bottom of the garden" to which eyebrows were certainly raised! It became apparent that we would need not only bigger premises, but ones that were slightly less rustic and with a few more white, scrubbable walls!
The countryside beckoned and we ended up building a smokehouse out of 2 shipping containers in a field at my dad's house in East Sussex.
This was May 2017. From here we would go on to supply Ocado, Waitrose as well as a whole host of other farm shops, delis and fine food stores. Online was still a very small part of what we did. As we grew, we brought out new flavours and products and we now have about 10 different smoked salmon flavours as well as paté and our new creation - Gilltong (smoked salmon jerky with honey and teriyaki)
Space was getting tight already, and in November 2019 we moved into our new, more permanent setting - Smokehouse v4.0!
Christmas 2019 and the yearly chaos ensued. This year was a bit different though. One of our large customers essentially swallowed up all our production, which on the surface seems great, but meant we had to turn away all our online business and some of out other loyal stockists which was devastating. Despite having a fantastic team of 5, it was incredibly stressful producing so much, and in part led to me ending up in a hospital bed for 12 nights over Christmas with a stomach ulcer! A low point. Something had to change.
January and February 2020 and we were refocusing on how best to serve our online business with a view to allocating a fixed amount of space each week to our online orders. Then covid hit. Whilst one side of the business vanished, the online side became vastly more busy. Realising that having one very big customer puts you in a very precarious position and you are essentially at their mercy, we decided to focus our energy online and grow the business that way having hundreds of individual customers each week, rather than just a few big ones. In some ways it takes us back to our market stall routes of selling direct to customers which is what puts a smile on our faces, and the great thing is we don't have to do it in the cold and rain!
Thanks for taking the time to read our story, we look forward to being of service, and if you have any questions, please get in touch.