Featured in Feast, issue 40- October 2019 – Big Interview Feature
These days, Easters of Norwich, based in Northumberland Street, is a thriving business which supplies fresh produce to around 250 restaurants, hotels, pubs, schools, shops, factories, contract and outside caterers. Although it is approaching its 30th anniversary, Peter has actually been in the business for more than 40 years.
He originally wanted to be a chef, but after a short stint in a kitchen, decided it wasn’t for him – neither was the year he spent working for what is now known as Aviva. Then the opportunity arose for his family to buy a convenience store, Magpie Stores on Magpie Road, and he hasn’t looked back since. ‘When I took over, it was a typical corner shop, selling convenience items such as sugar, bread, tea and milk. In fresh produce, we just used to sell potatoes, carrots, onions, bananas, apples and oranges – that was about it.’
In the mid-80s, inspired by a fruit and veg seller on Norwich Market who used to supply restaurants within wheelbarrow-pushing distance, Peter began supplying such places as Coldham Hall in Surlingham, the Golden Star in Colegate and a pizza place in Pottergate (where Rabbit is, nowadays). ‘All the places we used to eat at,’ says Peter, ‘and it just grew from there.’
Supplying the new By Appointment restaurant in Norwich was a turning point: ‘It snowballed,’ says Peter. The base continued to be the corner shop. ‘We used to put a fantastic display outside, every day.’ However, running the shop and supplying the restaurants had become too much of a juggling act, so Peter sold the store and bought a bigger shop in Mousehold, before moving to a warehouse on the corner of Oak Street and Sussex Street and finally settling in Northumberland Street, which is now home to 16 vans and 35 employees – including son Will, who is Operations Director.
An enquiry by Loch Fyne restaurant, regarding whether or not Easters supplied milk and cream, fortuitously led Peter down the path of becoming a dairy wholesaler, as well. ‘Starting to sell dairy was a real catalyst for us.’ But what is the real secret of Easters’ success? ‘We do give good service and we really look after our customers,’ says Peter.
Easters may specialise in fresh produce but there’s also a demand for dried goods – nuts and seeds might go to Figbar, in St John Maddermarket, for example.
Reflecting the rise of veganism, Easters supplies three vegan restaurants in Norwich, and Peter seems adept at spotting food trends: ‘I started selling tofu recently.’ He originally bought a box of 10 bars. ‘Within five months we’d sold more than 2000 bars.’
He also knows what’s what in the restaurant trade as he tends to dine out most nights – after working long days, the last thing he wants to do is cook! He’s a fan of The Last Wine Bar, somewhere he has been supplying since the start. Not one to put himself forward, as such, he says of the relationships he has forged with local businesses: ‘It’s all been through word of mouth.’
In the beginning, he was supplying ‘basic stuff’, as he puts it (in those days, Mediterranean vegetables were considered rather edgy). Whereas nowadays, it’s all about baby leaf mixed salads and heritage tomatoes (a grower in Dereham supplies him).
Easters specialises in local produce. The nearest supplier is a lettuce grower near the airport, strawberries come from just outside Holt, and free range eggs come from Great Ellingham, near Attleborough, just to give a few examples. ‘The local thing is really big now,’ acknowledges Peter. There’s still a place for more far-flung suppliers – frozen purées come from Paris.
Did he have a favourite veg? ‘I like roasted parsnip in the winter.’ And what’s coming to the fore this month? ‘The main thing, I suppose, is pumpkins, and figs will still be good in October.’
Easters has certainly evolved after the past three decades, and meeting the demands of chefs has certainly led it in different directions. Peter says it’s about ‘being in the right place at the right time,’ and adds, ‘you make your own luck in this world.’