A rustic pantry brought into urban sheffield

Urban Pantry, a new grocery store in Crookes offers a wide range of ethical and locally sourced products such as milk, cheeses, meats, breads and preserves, as an alternative to chain supermarkets.

Reece Lippolis, 31, established Urban Pantry with his partner, Grace Discombe, in March 2012. Reece describes himself as a  food lover and is always looking for tasty food from the local area, including farmer’s markets.

“Whe I worked full time I never had time to actually go out to many of these places to find the food, so I wanted to open somewhere in the middle of a shopping area and also open a little bit later for people who want to buy food on their way home after work.”

The products that Reece provides in his shop come from Sheffield, Derby, York and various places in West, North and Southwest Yorkshire.

“We probably have twenty suppliers at the moment and eight or nine from Sheffield.”

The breads they provide are from Cat Lane Bakery, the pies from Sheff’s special and the Milk from Our Cow Molly. These brands are all Sheffield-Made and some of them are from the local countryside. For example, Our Cow Molly, a popular cattle farm selling milk and ice creams, is in Dungworth.

Localy made breads and chorizos

The meaning of ‘local’

In Urban Pantry, the place of origin is labeled on almost every item and Reece believes this is very important.

“There is no definition of the word ‘local’ in relation to food. I feel that people need to know where the product has come from and if they can see it is something like a village or a town, then they can make their own mind up about how local that is. I’m not scrupulous about people saying that something is local or not.”

Reece explained that buying local food is not only important in supporting the local economy. However, the products are more eco-friendly because they travel less food miles, and they therefore have less preservatives and are fresher.

“Our Cow Molly delivers the milk every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They will milk the cows at five o’clock on every delivered day.”

Supermarkets are not competitors

As a local food shop, how does Urban Pantry compete with big supermarket chains, especially as there are two on either side of the shop? The answer is quite surprising, Reece said;

“I think they bring a lot of people to Crookes. A lot of customers I’ve spoken to, came across and said that they have been to the normal shops and want to come and see what I have got and they then buy something.”

In choosing the location for his shop, Reece spent a lot of time observing the environment.

“I sat outside the shop and counted how many people walked passed on a few nights. It just gave me an idea of what sort of people and how many people came through.”

Locally made cheese

Reece told me that he had been preparing to start his own business two and a half years before the shop was opened. He went to talk with the business mentor at Sheffield City Council and found products through food fayres.

Reece prepared the whole business plan so carefully because he had no experience in running a business.

“Previously, I was a site manager for a construction company. So it was completely different. But my family, my mom, my dad and my sister have all been self-employed. When I was not happy where I was in the construction industry, I started to think about what other things I could do,” said Reece.

A better future

During the preparation period, his partner Grace was having twins, who were eight months old when I visited them. “They were born around the time we found this place. When they were born, within about two weeks we were planning again.”

Reece also hopes that in the future, when the business grows, they will hire a few staff and will have more time to spend with his children.

“Compared with working long hours in the construction company, being your own boss is a lot more flexible.”