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Business is rosy for Jim and Harwoods

Business is rosy for Jim and Harwoods

Business is rosy for Jim and Harwoods

Jim Dew, who owns and runs Harwoods of London, has not always been based in Nine Elms. The business relocated from East London in 2010, to be closer to its customer base and take advantage of the extensive high-quality product offer on buyers’ walk. The firm had long been acquainted with this Market though and we asked Jim to tell us about his relationship with NCGM

“In the early ‘90s, we used to come to New Covent Garden Market as a company, even though we were based in Bow, a couple of miles from New Spitalfields Market,” Jim says. “We would buy most of our stuff then from Spitalfields, but either my dad or myself would come over in the lorry to Nine Elms every night and buy the products we couldn’t get over there.

“We’d visit Roux Lamartine, when Tim who now runs European Salads was working there, and buy all the French salads, products like oakleaf, frisee, even French bunched herbs in those days. When Roux Lamartine went, Paris Express came along and we also used to buy French salads from them. We’d get all the posh mushrooms, the Girolles and what have you, from Mushroom Man - I think we were their first customer; when they were Fruits of the Forest in Garratt Lane, they used to deliver to us in Bow).”

Jim and his dad (also Jim) would take the product from New Covent Garden back and sell it to the caterers in Spitalfields, companies like RA Prescott, which is now Prescott Thomas, and Nelson Bros – as well as their own network of catering customers, he says. “They used to help us,” Jim remembers. “Spitalfields wouldn’t open ‘til 3am and we’d have a Nelson Bros sticker on the side of the lorry so we could drive past the queue and get into the market early.

“We also used to drop product over to NCGM from Spitalfields. So even before we were a tenant at this Market, we were doing our bit.”

A wider range of the products he needed for his customers may have been an initial draw, but Jim says that when Harwoods eventually decided to relocate to Nine Elms, emissions was the tipping point. “We were running a lorry from Bow Triangle Business Centre to Spitalfields Market, about a two-and-a-bit mile trip, and to buy a brand-spanking new lorry for five miles a day just didn’t make sense. Neither did running back and forwards in three vans,” he explains. “We had already decided we needed to be over here because of the clientele we had – no disrespect at all to Spitalfields but it didn’t have what Covent Garden had in terms of the lovely exotic gear, the French salads and mushrooms and our customers all wanted that.

“It hasn’t changed our business as such. We had almost exactly the same customer profile as we do now, restaurants and all types of catering establishments throughout London and the Home Counties. But the location is better because a lot of our work is in the West End. If a restaurant calls up for a second delivery in Piccadilly, we’re there in 20 minutes. From Bow, you’ve got the Blackwall Tunnel traffic, then the Mile End Road or Bow Road to contend with. It makes a big difference.”

Family affair

Gareth, Jim and James

Harwoods has an accounts office in Kent, where Jim and his wife Trish live, and Harwoods of Kent, which trades out of NCGM and delivers throughout Kent. “My three sons Gareth, Josh and James all work in the firm. Josh runs Kent, which is great as it splits the brothers up and reduces the arguing!,” Jim laughs. “We had more or less stopped the Kent business, as it took a lot of time and was affecting the London business at times, but since Josh started to build it up again in a more dedicated way just before lockdown, he’s done really well.

“A lot of it is word of mouth and we’ve got more work through loyal customers like The West House in Biddenden, a chef we’ve supplied for over 30 years. I’m proud of Josh because it’s a hard nut to crack. He’s got a driver and separate staff and the deliveries go all over Kent and as far as Folkestone.”

Family is central to the firm, and it’s clear talking to Jim exactly how much love he has for what he still looks at as his Dad’s business, and the responsibility he has felt to make it work over the last 25 years. “My brother came out of the business just after my Dad passed away in 1997. My Mum almost sold the business to a NCGM firm, in fact, but I didn’t want to go and work for my Dad’s business under someone else. So, to cut a long story short, I bought it from her. It was hard in the beginning – I was still quite young and I was used to working with my Dad, so him not being there hurt.

“To this day, every decision, including when we moved over here, in the back of my mind is ‘what would the Old Man say?’. He loved Spitalfields, his first business was in the old Spitalfields and he sold that to Midland Garden Produce and ended up picking some of that business back up when MGP closed down. That’s when Harwoods was born – we started with just three customers.

“At the beginning of lockdown, when we could see what was coming, I took the decision to downsize and moved units. A lot of people said I’d over-reacted at first. But I thought ‘this is my Dad’s business’ – I can’t risk that. I didn’t want to take loans and then have to pay them back if the business couldn’t continue. I’m glad I did that now, because we’ve made ourselves more efficient and we’re bigger than we’ve ever been.

“It wasn’t that Dad didn’t like the Garden, he was just loyal to Spitalfields, having spent years and years there. Things like that nag away at you, but when my wife first came to see the new units last year and what we have here now compared to what we had before, she said ‘if you’re dad was alive now and saw all this, he’d be so proud’. I hope he would be. I don’t mind admitting, I was actually a bit emotional.”

New facilities

Just over a year since moving into his new units, Jim is delighted with how it’s gone. “We’ve been in the Market 13 years now and we’d worked out of three different units (in D and B blocks) before moving into our brand-new facilities in the newly finished block A in October 2022,” he says. “This unit – A205-206 – we designed it ourselves and actually, we based a lot of it on the old Chef’s Connection units we used to be in and now it’s exactly as we want it, like a home from home. In fact, the journey home can take a long time, so sometimes I get my nut down for a few hours, get up, have a bit of toast, have a shower and get back in the Market at 10pm without the stress of driving in.

“Downstairs, it’s just a different world to what it was. When I look back, I don’t know how we did it before. We got a 5-star hygiene rating. They gave us a bit of a hard time, which is fair enough, but the main thing they were worried about was the specification on the bottle of sanitiser, so that would suggest there wasn’t anything else they could find to worry about. Our clients ask for all sorts of certifications and ratings and we are able to supply them with proof of how well we operate.

“The difference is quite amazing. Even though the floorspace downstairs is the same as we had in the old unit, where it was tight, we have got the upstairs space. It’s not being fully utilised yet, but we have moved things around to make more use of the space and we know we have room to expand in to. We could double the size of the business if we wanted to.”

Jim reached his half century this year and admits that that scale of expansion might not happen while he’s around, but with three sons and a grandson (so far), there’s plenty of time!

“The boys want to carry on and I think sometimes they’d quite like me out of the way,” he laughs. “When I go on holiday, I come back and pick up on things and they don’t always like it, but to be fair to them, I can always tell they’ve cleaned and tidied everything up the day before I get back!”

When he’s not on holiday, Jim is on Buyers’ Walk most nights and the firm buys almost all of its product from wholesalers here. Like so many who work the types of hours that are the norm in this Market, pulling back isn’t easy. “I’m not officially supposed to work weekends these days, but when I’ve got a night off, I’m looking to see how busy it is. If we’re short staffed, I’m coming in, because I enjoy it. It’s a bit of a drug if I’m honest,” Jim says.

“It's a family up here, isn’t it? It’s what I say I say to Trish. When the proverbial hits the fan and it comes to the crunch, we all come together. When somebody is ill or dies, everyone knows each other and we all rally around, donate to good causes. I think that’s nice.”

Harwoods history

Founded by James Harwood Dew (Jim) and his wife Janice, Harwoods of London was established in 1989, in the middle of a world recession. It represented Jim’s second-coming as a greengrocer, as after working in the trade for two decades, he had sold his first business and with Janice, become a successful publican at a pub and restaurant in the heart of Kent.

Jim fell ill and wasn’t expected to recover, so the couple gave up the pub. Ever-resilient, he did recover though and backed by his two sons, decided to start a new business, a more personal service catering for each chef customer’s differing personal needs. Harwoods of London (Wholesale Greengrocers) was formed with just three customers, but it wasn't long before word and Jim’s reputation got around and the business expanded.

Sadly Jim's health declined again and in March 1997, he passed away, shortly after his first grandson was born, to in his words “carry on the good work”.

Janice retired and in March 1998, youngest son James (also Jim) took over the business with his wife Patricia.

Jim Jr and Patricia continued to increase the trade, moving with the times and into larger customised premises at New Covent Garden Market. Harwoods of London remains a family-run business; their three sons, Gareth, Josh and James are all in the fold now and you could say the fourth generation is coming through now as Josh just had a little boy.

Today, Harwoods supplies fresh fruit and vegetables to all types of catering establishments throughout London and the Home Counties.

Delivering consistent quality on a daily basis established the business’s reputation and has enabled it to grow and prosper.

Exotic produce is a specialty and the firm offers a wide range of non-fresh products, including frozen.

Tommy Leighton
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