Keep it local at this packed to the brim Kentish pantry
We chat to Stephen Jones about his Harbour Street pitstop for hungry fans of Kentish food. Stephen is a massive fan of our county and our abundance of quality produce but the owner of the store is originally from Manchester. How did he end up this far south? He says he ‘fell down’ our way gradually. On the advice of his friends, Stephen and his partner visited Kentish stops taking in the food on their way. After spending several long weekends in Whitstable he decided to settle here permanently in 2009.
Although Stephen has many friends and contacts all over the county including the owners of Margate gourmet spot GB Pizza he does not have every Kentish farmer on speed dial. In fact, he says: ‘It is getting harder and harder to find suppliers and keep suppliers. We have about 30 in all and it is cyclical. They come and go.’
Pick ‘n’ mix
If you’ve ever visited the cosy store you’ll know that you will be able to have stock up on all such of hearty produce such as local chutneys, freshly baked pastries and succulent fruit and vegetables but there is one vital part of the Kentish menu missing. Chocolate. Stephen says:
‘I am particularly keen to meet a Kentish chocolatier. We currently do not have one on our books,’ he says. It’s a startling omission but luckily Stephen does have suppliers all over the place providing the store with wonderful produce such as the historic Kent and Sussex Tea Company based in Pluckley. Tea and coffee are prepared and roasted here at this typical Kentish village not far from Ashford and their brews make the perfect company to the other goodies found here.
Wrap it up – without the plastic
Another passion of the store is avoiding the modern scourge that is the dreaded plastic. Stephen is committed to beating the modern environmental enemy and contributes enthusiastically to Whitstable’s ambition to be a plastic free town.
He says: ‘Plastic free is our aim. We source cutlery and utensils from our suppliers, London Bio Packaging. Our products are sourced to be as ethical and eco conscious as possible and we are particularly keen on plant-based products.’
Food – especially in the light of the pandemic and Brexit – has never been more of a hot topic. Now dinner is much more than just putting a meal together. For some, eating is a political act. But are the above topics changing the landscape when it comes to finding suppliers? Stephen says:
‘I would think so – yes. Already it is getting more and more difficult to get hold of Kentish products. Everyone wants local produce but I do not think it is purely down to trends.’
The larder of England
Stephen cites the widely reported story of the massive Suez container ship which ran into problems earlier this year. The stranded ship highlighted just how much we in the west rely on imports. It’s so reassuring that shops such as Stephen’s provide an antidote. But the six-million-dollar question. Do they rustle up the traditional Whitstable dish – Dredgerman’s breakfast ( oysters and bacon with bread)?
Stephen hesitates for a bit and then admits: ‘No. But we are opposite Wheelers so try them!’
As well as Brexit and Covid threatening food security, there are also many within our community who are struggling to afford the basics. Places locally are keen to address this such as The Umbrella Café nearby and for Stephen it is certainly something he has thought about.
He says: ‘I do pay it forward and we are considering ways to combat food poverty.’
Keeping Kent on our plates and innovation in our minds, Whitstable Produce Store is the place to head to if you care about our county and its unbeatable culinary offerings.