Cinnamon Leaf Foodhall is a family-run Black-owned supermarket in Tottenham High Road, London, that’s rewriting the blueprint on how to create a thriving and much-loved Afro-Caribbean food business.
Afro-Caribbean food is a staple within Black British communities. ‘Hard food’, tropical fruits and an array of beans, grains and flours are the sorts of foods you expect to see on shelves and piled high in baskets. But rarely do the products represent the food diversity in either Africa or the Caribbean, or the range of brands on offer. This is what makes Cinnamon Leaf Foodhall in Tottenham High Road so refreshing.
The Black-owned supermarket/ café is described on Instagram as a “fusion between organic and wholefoods and Afro-Caribbean foods”. The stock is an exciting mix of siblings Kiera-Lorelle, Lewis and Jay’s West African and Caribbean roots with their love for organic and alternative foods. These roots extend to Ghana and Sierra Leone, Jamaica and Cuba.
“It makes me so happy when people come in and try something.”
“It’s always been a dream, especially of my mum’s, so we decided to push through with opening a shop,” Kiera-Lorelle Rhomes said on the phone whilst in the middle of greeting customers on the shop floor.
“We wanted to bring both of our worlds together. I’ve grown up loving cornmeal porridge and hard dough bread from the bakers but at the same time, I’ve learnt about so many different foods and lifestyles. Organic and Afro-Caribbean are two worlds that don’t really meet in Western society. Back home, of course, you can get proper soursop and avocado, for example, but there’s so many amazing foods from around the world that have great health benefits.”
At Cinnamon Leaf Foodhall, the vibe is friendly and inviting as backed up by the stream of Google reviews complimenting its five-star customer service and great selection of foods for customers with special dietary needs. Yes, it’s an Afro-Caribbean specialist, but everyday items for your food shop haven’t been left off the inventory. Shoppers will be familiar with the organic and wholefood brands mingled in with purpose amongst home favourites like Dunns River, Tropiway and Grace Foods.
She said: “People can be intimidated by everything in a wholefood store or be intimidated to ask questions. Having that mix of staples and alternative brands removes the pressure on customers to shop organic. It makes me so happy when people come in and try something.”
St Lucian banana ketchup, Ugandan ginger and apple bananas, are some of the lesser known foods to discover there amongst seasonal UK fruits and vegetables. (Butternut squash, anyone?) COVID-19 has made it challenging to get groceries into England, Kiera-Lorelle explained, with “lots of containers being stopped and not allowed in”.
“Getting fruits hasn’t been the easiest,” she added. “The suppliers we work with try their best.”
“We’re low on the pecking order for being a small business so we don’t have as much dominance as other companies that are able to store stock in large warehouses.”
As an essential business, the food hall has been open since it launched in January of this year. Operating during a pandemic hasn’t been easy. Various restrictions, coupled with the struggle to get essential items like toilet roll and hand sanitiser, has made things doubly hard for independent and new businesses like Cinnamon Leaf.
“We’re low on the pecking order for being a small business so we don’t have as much dominance as other companies that are able to store stock in large warehouses. We were persistent though and just pushed through.”
What pieces of wisdom have the Cinnamon Leaf Foodhall team gained as newbies in the food retail industry
- Our biggest tip is to expect the unexpected. We knew running a store wouldn’t be easy, but we definitely underestimated how we’d be working around the clock.
- We’ve learnt a lot about trading with fresh produce. Prices fluctuate constantly so we have to bear this in mind when we sell to customers. They may not want to pay three-times the amount if we’re buying at a higher price so sometimes we’ll wait until prices go down.
- And finally, we’ve learnt Tottenham has a real community spirit. We knew this already but having a store has really been a testament to it.
Working with family can have its ups and downs, but there are more ups for these guys, who are enjoying learning together. As a close-knit family they’ve played to their strengths and collaborated to bring the shop to life. The minimalist interior is their mum’s partner’s handiwork as he built the store. The tasty coffees customers have raved about are thanks to Lewis, a trained barista who has shared his skills with the others.
Before venturing into food retail, Jay worked in the automotive industry whilst singer Kierra-Lorelle and dancer Lewis have taken a break from the arts.
She said: “Every weekend my auntie and cousin are down. From time to time, other family will pop in and my grandpa will come and sit in the corner, so it’s really nice to have that support. It’s always a pleasure to be around family.”
“Every weekend my auntie and cousin are down. From time to time, other family will pop in and my grandpa will come and sit in the corner, so it’s really nice to have that support.”
Cinnamon Leaf Foodhall is just around the corner from where the siblings grew up. She hasn’t yet reflected on the quiet impact they’ll be having on youngsters in North London, but the store is getting a lot of love from the Tottenham community. Local rapper Wretch 32 has stopped by and Black Pound Day founder Swiss said: “him soon come” back in August, so he must have popped in by now.
Not only are the trio creating a new aesthetic for the future of Afro-Caribbean grocery stores, they’re generations younger than the aunties and uncles you usually see fronting such businesses. However, their youth isn’t what Kiera-Lorelle thinks customers notice so much.
“Customers come in from everywhere and they’re all races, which is beautiful. We’re very blessed.”
She said: “I think they look at us as a family and that’s what people are drawn to because you don’t often see Black families running a store so it makes people of all ages feel very comfortable.
“Customers come in from everywhere and they’re all races, which is beautiful. We’re very blessed. Young people come in because maybe they’ve seen us on social media, but so many aunties and uncles come in too because they’re very happy to see a business like ours open and running. They just want to see us thrive.”
Visit Cinnamon Leaf Foodhall
555, 557 High Rd