Sheffield’s independent Yorkshire Food Emporium on localism

Sheffield Unchained joined Humbledinger to talk to the co-owner of Mr Pickles’ Yorkshire Food Emporium about how the Yorkshire focused business began and why they think local is better. 

Watch the video to find out why co-owner Patrick Stephenson believes shopping for local produce is better. Read the article to find out how the business began and how they are making it easier for customers to choose to shop locally.

Mr Pickles’ Yorkshire Food Emporium is run by brother-in-laws Paul Widdowson and Patrick Stephenson. Paul came up with the idea for Mr Pickles four years ago after struggling to find enough local produce for his guest house, the Old Registry in Haworth.

Paul Widdowson, screenshot from Humbledinger's film "Mr Pickles' Yorkshire Food Emporium on localism"

Paul Widdowson, screenshot from Humbledinger’s film “Mr Pickles’ Yorkshire Food Emporium on localism”

Patrick explained that Paul told him about the idea over a beer whilst on holiday and asked Patrick to join him in setting up Mr Pickles in Sheffield.

It seemed like a great idea at the time and as it’s evolved it’s made more and more sense to me.

I think there is a real lack of information about local food and there are a huge amount of great producers out there, but because a lot of them are quite small they struggle to get their name out there.

So I see Mr Pickles’ job as collecting all these suppliers in one place and letting customers know that they exist.

A real adventure

Patrick, 38, quit his job as a psychiatric nurse last September to join Paul in starting up Mr Pickles. He’d been working as a psychiatric nurse for eight years and before that he worked with people with learning disabilities since he was 20 years old.

It’s been a nice change, although if anything I am working more hours now than I used to and the security definitely isn’t there. But it’s been a real adventure, a roller coaster and I still get to see and speak to a lot of people, which was one of my favourite parts of nursing.

Mr Pickles' Yorkshire Food Emporium, screenshot from Humbledinger's film "Mr Pickles' Yorkshire Food Emporium on localism"

Mr Pickles’ Yorkshire Food Emporium, screenshot from Humbledinger’s film “Mr Pickles’ Yorkshire Food Emporium on localism”

Mr Pickles, at 240 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, opened its doors to the public in May 2014 and it has been growing in popularity ever since.

It’s very much a family business, Paul and myself are the main contributors to the business, but my parents, his parents, our wives, sisters, brothers, everyone has had a hand in helping us to open the shop and to realise what we wanted to do.

Local, seasonal and ethical

Mr Pickles philosophy is all about supplying quality products that have been grown in Yorkshire or supplied by a Yorkshire company. They only stock fresh produce that is seasonal and they place great importance on quality and care.

We decided to pick Yorkshire as our county and it has got some great producers in it. Although we’re close to Derbyshire, we are going to stick to the boundaries of Yorkshire so that people know exactly what to expect when they shop with us.

Provenance, quality and taste are very important to us. So if it is produced in Yorkshire by someone who cares, is of good quality and tastes delicious, then we’ll stock it.

Foundry Coffee at Mr Pickles, screenshot from Humbledinger's film "Mr Pickles' Yorkshire Food Emporium on localism"

Foundry Coffee at Mr Pickles, screenshot from Humbledinger’s film “Mr Pickles’ Yorkshire Food Emporium on localism”

Patrick says his favourite product at the moment is the Foundry Coffee, who are a Sheffield company set up by four friends in 2012. Foundry Coffee ethically sources coffee beans from all over the world and then roasts them to order in Sheffield.

They’ve got great ethics and are really heavily involved in the quality of the product. It’s all about getting these smaller producers out in front of customers and giving them a voice, which is the most exciting thing for me at the moment.

Making it easier for customers

A unique feature of Mr Pickles is their opening hours. They are open 8am-8pm, seven days a week. Patrick explained that they realise how important it is to make it easy for people to shop locally before or after work.

One of the things we are doing is getting the conversation going with customers about what they want and providing something that makes that change in lifestyle and eating habits easier for people to do. Because even if you do want to shop for local produce, high welfare meat and sustainable products, it is often not that convenient.

Most shops are only open during working hours and they have reduced opening hours at the weekend, which makes it very difficult for 90% of the population to buy those products and to access sustainable produce.

That’s why we’re open earlier and for longer, so that people can shop for higher quality produce at a good price after work. We get a lot of our customers before nine in the morning and after five in the evening and people have fed back to us that it is really appreciated.

Sheffield’s independent streak

Patrick believes Sheffield is unique in it’s independent attitude, which has given it’s independent scene the strength to continue and grow even during hard times.

Sheffield has a level of excitement about local produce and small independent businesses that you don’t find in a lot of towns or cities. I think Sheffield has always had an independent streak to it in a lot of different ways, whether its people’s politics or education, or just the variety of people that come to the city and stay, it makes for a great environment.

The independent scene from our perspective seems to be growing, there are certain parts which are struggling, but I think that is more to do with the national economy and certain decisions that have been made at a local level.

I think the pressure of big brand supermarkets and large international food chains on the Sheffield City Council to open up lots of big brand local supermarkets has had a marked effect on some parts of the local independent business. Independent restaurants in the city centre have also been suffering from what they believe is a saturation of big business restaurants that have opened up.

Sheffield Honey at Mr Pickles, screenshot from Humbledinger's film "Mr Pickles' Yorkshire Food Emporium on localism"

Sheffield Honey at Mr Pickles, screenshot from Humbledinger’s film “Mr Pickles’ Yorkshire Food Emporium on localism”

Although some parts are suffering, some parts are growing rapidly, according to the Antiques Quarter something like sixteen businesses have opened up in this area in the last eighteen months.

I think people generally are really interested in the independent scene in Sheffield and are very supportive of small businesses. So for me it has been a lovely environment to do something like this. It is hard work and it is taking a risk, but I think our customers have been hugely supportive of that and I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else.