At the start of December 2020, we opened our new Neal’s Yard Dairy shop on Essex Road, Islington. Since then, we’ve been selling our British and Irish cheeses along with essentials such as bread, eggs, milk and yoghurt. We have been operating in a temporary setup to understand the space and to get to know our customers but are now undergoing a 5-week refurbishment. If all goes to plan, we will reopen as a permanent shop on 23 March.
Our hope is that the Islington shop will be identifiably Neal’s Yard Dairy in its friendly and knowledgeable service, and range of the best British & Irish cheeses available. However, we want to avoid our shops becoming carbon copies of each other and celebrate the differences between them. Rather than have a standard shop design, we want to understand our neighbours and customers and evolve a shop that’s a product of its environment. Read on to learn about the work we are doing to the shop, and what you can expect on your next visit.
What does our refurbishment entail?
Lots of our new regulars will be pleased to hear that the aesthetic of the shop won’t change too much. The shop was formerly an art gallery and the space has been artfully designed with this in mind. The walls are clean and sharp, and the space is lit with plenty of natural light that comes through the large shop front and a small square window at the back of the shop.
We have always been inspired by and responded to the existing aesthetic when opening our shops. We have the cornucopia that is the Covent Garden shop, the vast warehouse layout of Borough Market and now the cool, simple Islington shop. We’ll maintain the existing clean look by keeping the walls largely free of shelves, which are fixtures in our other shops once intended for maturing and storing hard cheeses. Now that we have a dedicated maturation team and facility in Bermondsey for these cheeses, the Islington shop won’t need to hold so much stock.
The bulk of the refurbishment work will be practical with the priority being functionality. Refrigeration is the most important aspect of this project. We will install a small cold room as well as cooling units hung from the ceiling, allowing us to create an optimal environment for storing and displaying cheeses. Having a cold room means we can sell a wider range of fresh goods and keep a good supply of the fast favourites of the Islington customers like Neal’s Yard Creamery’s greek style yoghurt and crème fraîche as well as Ivy House Farm organic milk.
Once our refrigeration is up and running we need to make sure that the shop retains its cool atmosphere by installing an awning that will protect the cheese from the sun in hotter months and our customers from the rain. We will also be separating off a staff area at the back of the shop so that our team can enjoy breaks in privacy and away from temperatures that may be suitable for fresh cheeses but not so suitable for cheesemongers!
What will make the Islington shop different to our other shops?
Working through the Covid-19 pandemic, we (like many others) have had to continually adapt to the changing landscape and appreciate the need for flexibility more now than ever. This is why we are making the set up in our Islington shop as modular as possible. We want to build in enough flexibility to allow us to serve customers in a variety of set-ups so that we can work safely and efficiently in whatever the Covid-19 situation is. We hope that one day in the not-too-distant future we might even be able to host small cheese events in our new space. To allow for these different layouts we are designing mobile cheese counters that can be reconfigured in various ways as well as running our electricity down from the ceiling so that we have power for whatever format we’re working in.
Since we opened in December, the reception we’ve had from the Islington community has been really positive. We are so pleased to have joined such a vibrant community with established food destinations such as Steve Hatt Fishmonger’s and James Elliott Butchers nearby, making this corner of Islington the perfect one-stop shop for meat, fish, bread, cheese, and dairy. We are looking forward to returning with a better set up to receive both the customers and the cheese itself. Spring will soon be here, vaccines are coming, lockdown will ease and we are excited to be moving into a brighter future in our new neighbourhood.