Leila McAllister has a fixed routine. "I’ve been coming to the market every week for ten years," she says, jumping out of her navy blue van.
Leila is a grocer with a difference. From two adjacent shops in Shoreditch she runs a small but thriving business that combines a café, grocery, veg box scheme and bespoke catering.
Every Monday she visits Covent Garden, arriving around midnight - before she goes to sleep. "For [the traders] it's Tuesday. The good stuff comes in and out so early now."
Leila buys from a wide range of wholesalers, hunting for produce that is seasonal and good value for a mixed bunch of customers that includes locals, passing trade, fussy foodies and nearby chefs.
"I buy for taste primarily: it works when fruit and vegetables are grown right time of year, in places where they are traditionally grown."
This week, she’s particularly buzzing after a visit with to Rungis wholesale market in Paris with the European Salad Company.
Her purchases have just arrived, including exquisite sand-grown carrots, chicory, lambs' lettuce, kohl rabi, waxed charcuterie paper and, for novelty's sake, a couple of 'Buddha’s hands', an rare citrus fruit with knobbly yellow fingers.
In terms of logistics, Leila has developed a consolidation method for her purchases that suits her scale of business. "I try to forge my own way to get what I want," she states.
As a first port of call, she buys her organic produce from Langridge Organic Products, a wholesaler on the Market, who then allows her space to consolidate orders from other traders, for onward delivery to Leila's Shop.
"It’s a lifeline for me," she says, gratefully. Langridge are the main organic specialist, explains night manager Danny Buery: "We cater for all the Fresh and Wilds, we do a lot of business in Brighton, all down the south coast, private schools …".
What else is Leila buying? "It's roots, turnips, carrots, the first purple sprouting, good potatoes. Then luckily you have bitter leaves from Italy, blood oranges, rhubarb. France and Italy becomes quite important at this time of year."
Back in Shoreditch, Leila arranges the produce in mouth watering displays, selling direct to the public in her café and grocery shop.
It also ends up in the café kitchen and the shop supplies a few local catering businesses such as Towpath, Violet café and Rochelle Canteen.
In addition, Leila runs a weekly veg scheme for customers in Dalston, Clapton, Victoria Park, Whitechapel and Spitalfields, delivering the produce in brown paper bags.
All credit to this modern, clued-up grocer – London needs more creative enterprises with this kind of spirit.
15-17 Calvert Ave,
020 7729 9789