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Eva relishes the Mission Kitchen experience

Eva relishes the Mission Kitchen experience

18 Feb, 2024

Eva relishes the Mission Kitchen experience

Garden Of Eva was a founding member of Mission Kitchen (MK) at New Covent Garden Market in 2021. We caught up with Eva Thorne and discovered that her journey epitomises what the commercial kitchen space and added-value membership benefits at MK are designed for.

“I grew up with a mother from the American South who was really into the region’s culinary traditions, so from the time I was young, I was making pickles, jams, and relishes and since 2012, I’d been dreaming of starting my own condiments company,” says Eva. “My dream was fuelled by memories of mommy’s sweet and tangy cinnamon-spiced pickled watermelon rind that she served at our holiday dinner parties, as an accompaniment to ham and turkey. They disappeared fast!”

She had travelled the world over as a food lover, but the Ureka! moment happened at home in the US. “I was sitting in the parking lot of a pan-Asian supermarket in Boston, waiting for it to open because I needed to buy unwaxed lemons to preserve for a Moroccan tagine that I was obsessed with making. You couldn’t find Moroccan preserved lemons in any store back then, so I had to do it myself. In that parking lot, memories of my experiences making pickles, jams and relishes with my mom, dad, and sister collided with needing unwaxed lemons for a tagine. I thought, ‘you know what?; there’s something in this, a demand for pickles from all over the world’,” Eva says. “It seemed to me that the best place to start would be with what I already knew – pickles, jams and relishes from the American South.

“I decided that the first product line would be pickles, starting with pickled watermelon rind (yes, the rind - no waste) and chow chow (pickled relish with cabbage, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, onions, vinegar, sugar, and warm spices). Both the pickle and the relish go great with cheese, which Brits love. The pickled watermelon rind is a good accompaniment to ham, bbq, venison, and duck. It also goes well chopped and added to tuna and pasta salads. Think of chow chow as a distant cousin of piccalilli. It’s good with everything: veggies, pinto beans, hot dogs and sausages, and burgers. I have customers who eat it with eggs, roasted salmon, and roasted chicken,” she says.

The vision was crystalised on arrival in England, in 2014, when Eva realised she still couldn’t find any of the pickles and relishes she grew up with and recognised a similar gap in the UK market. Busy with her own career though, Eva was short of the time needed to make solid progress – until the pandemic hit and she decided to use the window provided by lockdown to spread her wings.

“As part of the pre-opening work conducted by MK, Amy Win, the organisation’s Community Manager, had put together an amazing online course called Launch Your Food Hustle,” says Eva. “During the autumn and winter lockdown in 2020/21, I applied and was accepted. I had been to plenty of ‘Ra-Ra, you can do it’ types of founder bootcamps and while they were inspiring, I always found that I left without a clear direction – do this, then do this, then do that etc… What was I supposed to actually do to create a business? I didn’t get that.”

“The course Amy offered was revolutionary for me, because every week, I had something new and concrete to do – a social media plan, a kitchen operations plan, a spreadsheet for all of my ingredients (to figure out my costs), recipes written out, feedback from testing the recipes, who to talk to in order to open up a website or to get insurance. So by the time I’d finished the course, all I actually had to do was register my business and buy my insurance and I had exactly what I needed to launch. |”

“It changed everything for me - I call her Momma Amy now!”

Eva’s dream became a reality when she incorporated Garden of Eva in May, 2021. She became a founding member of MK. “I’m a proud founding member,” Eva says. “I started making pickles and relish at MK and went up to four days a week, after work, from 6pm-10pm – for several months.”

Just two and a half years later, Garden of Eva is the perfect example of what MK aims to achieve for its members. It is an ‘incubator’, supporting and enriching newborn food businesses until they have grown in strength and size and can fly the nest to bigger and, hopefully, great things. “I went to MK’s events and joined its brilliant mentoring program,” Eva says. “The program features successful industry insiders and at an event featuring new businesses, a co-founder of Honest Burgers (HB), Tom Barton, tried my chow chow over Southern greens and cornbread that I made. He loved it, offered to be my mentor, and suggested a collaboration. That meant featuring Garden of Eva’s American Southern Chow Chow on an HB special burger of the month.

“The chow chow was served at all 42 HB restaurants across the UK. It took 10 months to find a manufacturer, scale, get the branding, etc… But the hard work, exhaustion and frustration paid off. HB created a Southern, buttermilk-brined fried chicken burger with lettuce, cheese, candied bacon, ranch mayo, hot sauce, and GOE’s American Southern Chow Chow.”

Eva supplies a wide range of customers, but charts her higher-profile progress since that initial breakthrough: “The collaboration with HB was in summer 2022 and things have moved on quickly since then,” she says. “I launched American Southern Chow Chow, Pickled Watermelon Rind and Chili-Watermelon Jam in Whole Foods Market UK  in the summer of 2023 and there’s another major store that I will be launching in early in 2024. There are a few online retailers that should be stocking our products soon, too.”

The commercial success has been accompanied by awards and high-profile recognition. Eva’s pickles won 2 stars at Great Taste Awards in 2022 and Whole Foods Market UK recently named her Chili-watermelon jam in their list of 2024 food and drink trends for “complex heat”.

The rapid expansion began from Nine Elms, but Eva’s business soon outgrew the MK facility. That hasn’t signalled the end of her membership though. “I don’t cook at MK any more because I’ve outsourced production to a manufacturer in Wales, but I’m still a member because I can come in and do development work, make a couple of jars for something specific or do some food photography, for example. I love being part of the community; people get what you’re doing and they’re really supportive. When you need someone to taste something – does it need more thyme, more salt, less cheese… – or just help you put the lids on your jars, that’s always there for you. They’re my people.

“I can’t imagine not being involved in MK now,” she says. “I think it’s been great in terms of learning, but also they are really beginning to emerge as the go-to place for new food businesses. They are helping lots of emerging food brands to launch and grow and also, through their events, they are convening some of the really important conversations about the direction of food, whether that be in the context of climate change or what he future of fat will be. They are helping to change the way people think about food and that’s hugely important.”

Eva winning with Amy and MK

Amy Win, Community Manager at Mission Kitchen, recounts her experience of working with Garden of Eva:

“As Eva says, we first met online as part of MK's Launch Your Food Hustle course, which was entirely delivered on Zoom during the peak days of Covid. It took very early-stage food founders through the building blocks of a food business. As the course instructor, I was intrigued by Eva's business proposition and impressed with her natural storytelling style and warmth (yes even via Zoom!).

“Eva ended up winning discounted MK membership and joining us as a founding member when we opened our doors in June 2021. Since then, her business has gone from strength to strength. She's secured a contract manufacturer, been mentored by food industry veterans such as Tom Barton and Pollen + Grace co-founder Kristina Komlosiova, as well as receiving Great Taste Awards.

“It's been rewarding to see Eva move through the various stages of her business over the last couple of years. She's made the most of what MK tries to foster: the network, community, and expert links.

That Garden of Eva’s products are now found in WholeFoods is an amazing achievement for a first-time food entrepreneur, and although she has devoted much more of her time to her own business recently, Eva is still holding down a job in a completely different industry.

“Safe to say Eva is a powerhouse and I've loved working with her and keeping in touch with her during her food business journey.”

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Tommy Leighton
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