When Martin Dykes of Nature’s Choice bought the Market Café in June 2022, he had a long-term plan in mind. He tells Market Times how the first few months have gone and why he believes the newly named Market Club has huge potential.
Martin and business partner Glyn bought the café in A Block of the fruit and vegetable market from Mehmet Yilmaz, who had run it for more than 20 years. The premises were given a thorough deep clean and a complete refurb before the Market Club was ready to open in August.
“We ripped pretty much everything out and threw it away and invested more money than we expected in cleaning and new equipment,” says Martin. “Our biggest challenge though was recruitment. It was so hard to get staff, but we’ve got two great chefs now – Paul Smith and George Futcher – who both have loads of experience in high-end West End restaurants.” Paul works the early shift and George comes in from 6am to take over and their expertise is being complemented by a growing band of friendly and, importantly, reliable staff.”
The short-term objective was to establish the Market Club and its offer within the Market, but Martin thought from the outset that the business would need to widen its horizons to be a successful proposition further down the line. “We’ve got about a year left in this premises before this block gets demolished,” he says. “We knew that when we bought the business and we’re not sure yet where we’ll end up being in the redeveloped Market.
“First and foremost, I wanted to buy it for the people in the Market and we will always focus on caring for them. The menu has been slimmed down from the previous ownership’s offer, but it still has the Market community at its heart, Martin says. “You have got to reflect your core clientele,” he adds.
“But I was always looking at the long term. I see this becoming a hub for the Market and the local community, not just for the fruit and vegetable traders. But they are still the primary focus. The whole area around the Market is changing massively and I believe that the new Market will create a good environment for people to come into and we’ll be able to attract new customers from outside the Market, as well as the customers who work here.
“Our ethos is to offer good food, good value and to care for every one of our customers. I want to do more things and the menu will continue to evolve with time and once we have relocated and have the right building, we’ll definitely rethink things and promote the restaurant more. I’d like to have outside seating if possible and make Market Club a real destination. If you go to Rungis wholesale market (in Paris), they have 20+ top class restaurants, so why shouldn’t we have some here?”
The café is located next door to Nature’s Choice, which supplies all of its product. So Martin really could not be watching over its development from closer quarters. “I actually thought it would be a bit busier than it has been, but it’s steady,” he says. “Maybe some people got out of the habit of coming to the café during the night when it was closed for a while. The night-time footfall is slowly building though and we’re pretty busy during the day, because lots of the people in the Market offices are using us. We haven’t been rushing things, but as we’ve started to promote ourselves a bit more, that’s having an impact.”
Signs have begun to pop up around the market promoting the rotating daily specials and meal deals that the café is offering and the menu also caters for people with different dietary requirements, which has obvious appeal.
“We’re not losing money and I’m convinced it will be very successful eventually,” Martin says. “You have to take a gamble in life sometimes. I’ve certainly taken plenty of chances at Nature’s Choice and most of them have paid off!” He cites the decision to become the Market’s first major supplier of microherbs as one chance taken that proved very successful for a long period.
What feedback has Market Club been getting from customers so far? “People seem to really like the changes we’ve made to the menu and the general quality of the offer,” says Martin. “I’ve also asked a couple of my customers who own cafes and restaurants for their thoughts and they definitely see the potential I see, as long as we can tap into what’s around and about the Market alongside our existing customer base,” Martin says. “It’s not vibrant enough yet and obviously the redevelopment is ongoing. But once we have a new Market, I think we’ll fly.”