Full names: James Brundle & Chris O’Connor
Roles: Directors and co-founders of Eat17
DOBs: James 20/01/1984, Chris 10/02/1984
Birthplaces: James: Harlow Essex, Chris: UCH London
J: So, let’s start at the beginning. You have known each other since the age of 5 (as stepbrothers). 20 years after, the two of you decide to buy a dilapidated shop together and, many years later, here we are with you at the head of a rather successful food business. There was a career in the military and sleeping in a van at some point too. Could you fill the gaps in for us, please? Sounds like quite an adventure!
Thanks, so I was in the army before from the age of 16 until I was 21. After this, I left to work at the same company as Chris, he was in sales and I went into buying. We both wanted to start our own business and the opportunity came up to take a lease in a run-down off-licence called Pauls Wines in Walthamstow.
We purchased an old red transit van and went out regularly to markets and local suppliers to buy all our goods, the days were very long, so we made a habit of just staying in the van! This was our first place and where the journey began.
On that note, the two of you seem to have elevated storekeeping to some kind of high art (I’m thinking of your awards in The Grocer for a start). Please tell us a little about what you do, and how you have done it.
We aim to make everything the best and put everything we can into the customer experience. We work with over 11 different companies within Eat 17 – including street food traders, fishmongers and other local concessions who rent space within our sites to offer their amazing products to our customers.
At Eat 17 we also find the best people we can to make loads of our own products and ready meals – this includes an in-house butcher, baker and patisserie chef. We truly wish to change how retailing is done and bring up the standard.
Care to enlighten us about the now legendary Bacon Jam? I’d actually known about it for years before discovering that you guys were more than a maker of unusual preserves…
Chris used to make it as a topping for our burgers in the restaurant, one weekend he made 200 jars and we put them in the shop, they sold out in a single weekend! One of the producers of the Johnathan Ross show tried some and they put it on the opening show. From there it snowballed, we picked up lots of listings very quickly from independents to multiples.
You’re now known as champions of local and artisan produce. But what do you look for in terms of what you stock? If I were a small producer with an excellent product, how would I get myself on your shelves?
We would try it and if we like it and the price is reasonable, we would give it a go.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into your life?
Every day is different, me and Chris split our time between sites working on the shop floors or in the offices. Chris will also work in the kitchen – there simply isn’t enough hours in the day.
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
There is no single moment that stands out, we are literally trying new things all the time as it’s what Eat17 is all about! We add things and change things around on a very regular basis and we are always pushing to create a better experience. With this being our philosophy, there have been lots of memorable achievements but also mistakes.
Where do you get your ideas?
We are always mindful of what’s out there and are always talking between ourselves, if we all think something is a good idea we will try it, if it works we try and grow it.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
Communication as the company grows is always difficult – and we have to remember we can’t do everything ourselves.
Thankfully we have good managers and a good team but it’s always challenging communicating things
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
There hasn’t been a person that has inspired us, it’s been Eat 17 and what we want to achieve for our customers that drives us and the business forward. Our staff and close relationship with AF Blakemore helps us improve every day.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
We enjoy all parts of what we do and there isn’t any part that we least enjoy doing.
If we are needing to do it then its relevant to the success of the business.
Both Chris and I love what we do and until the day we don’t, we are going to keep going on this great journey.
What advice would you give to aspiring food and drink entrepreneurs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Work harder than your competition and stand out from the crowd.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Not sure, whatever it was Chris and I would have our own business together.
If you could get anyone to try your foods (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the foods would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
Sorry, this question has me stuck – not really sure haha!
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for Eat17? If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Money and reality are no obstacle, so shoot for the moon…
Our ultimate goal for Eat 17 is to continue growing, but most importantly to offer the best unrivalled experience for our customers and become a number one choice for shopping and dining.
Where next for you and the business?
We are opening Leytonstone and Hammersmith in the coming months which will include street food, fish counters and a yoga studio!
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you were forced to live on one kind of alcohol for the rest of your life (assume that your metabolism becomes specifically adapted to use this as your sole source of calories, so you had to drink this to survive) – which would you pick, and why?
Eat 17 own brand beer for sure.
If you were given an infinite budget but had to spend it all on entirely frivolous stuff, what are the first 3 things you’d buy, and why?
I can’t think of anything, to be honest, Sorry that’s a boring answer but there isn’t anything that springs to mind.
If you could swap lives for the day with any fictional character (and you’d be guaranteed to return to your life after 24 hours), who would you choose, and why?
Theresa May, just to see what her average day was like out of interest. [Ed: lol, Theresa May the fictional supervillain?]