Julian Graves is a high-street store that seems to prefer small market-town high streets to giant city centres. You can find branches in Woodbridge, Sudbury, Ludlow, Callander and Barnard Castle, where the shops are always packed.
They sell herbs, spices, snacks, nuts and raisins, sweeties and even health foods. I’ve just discovered its light and crumbly cheese baguettes, excellent with dry sherry. Julian Graves (named after Nick Julian Shutts, the founder, and his business partner, Nigel Graves Morris) is 20 years old this year. It all started when Nick, aged 26, borrowed £500 from his father to buy a van and opened a market stall in Moreton-in-Marsh, selling baking ingredients.
‘I remembered from my time in supermarkets how good sales of baking products sultanas, raisins and currants were in the run-up to Christmas. I rang round the docks to see if there were any suitable suppliers. Liverpool had some, so I drove there in my van the day before market day and bought some stock.’
Today, you can get Japanese peanut crackers flavoured with seaweed or black sesame, oven-roasted nuts, such as cashew and pistachio, and giant jars of jelly beans and spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon bark and cloves. Its plain chocolate raisins are also delicious.
A dozen more market stalls were followed by the first shop in 1987. The first customer was Mrs Gibbs from the Moreton WI who spent exactly £8.11 every week. Now, 20 years later, Julian Graves has 325 stores and is a multi-million pound business which shows what use a £500 van can be.
For stores, telephone 0845 602 4816 or visit www.juliangraves.co.uk