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Could a vegan supermarket be on the cards for Ipswich town centre?

PUBLISHED: 15:27 22 April 2020 | UPDATED: 15:27 22 April 2020

Some of the team at Hank's Deli & Shop, left to right Nick Page, Jacqui Grimsey, Leigh Palmer, Nick Powell and Roisin Pulham Picture: Geoffrey Bligh

Some of the team at Hank's Deli & Shop, left to right Nick Page, Jacqui Grimsey, Leigh Palmer, Nick Powell and Roisin Pulham Picture: Geoffrey Bligh

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Hank’s Deli & Shop has been helping the local community throughout Coronavirus lockdown - and now the team are looking for larger premises in the town.

Fresh fruit ready for delivery Picture: Geoffrey BlighFresh fruit ready for delivery Picture: Geoffrey Bligh

Hank’s Deli & Shop in Ipswich has proven itself to be a lifeline for the town’s vegan community since its inception in July 2019. So much so that owners Geoffrey Bligh and Phil Rivers also opened a new vegan pub in Suffolk’s county town in January.

With lockdown forcing shops up and down the country to close their doors for the foreseeable future, Hank’s Deli has stepped up to the plate and is continuing to deliver vegan produce and household supplies to those in the local area via its online shop, selling essentials including much sought-after flour and yeast.

Not only that, but things have been going so well for Hank’s, that Geoffrey and Phil are on the lookout for bigger premises in the town centre. This will see the shop and cafe expanding, with a fully vegan supermarket inside it too.

“With the pub, it was hugely disappointing as it was just before Mother’s Day and we were fully booked for a few weeks in advance,” Geoffrey said of the Coronavirus outbreak. “But putting business aside – we have around 20 members of staff – people who depend on our businesses for their income – and when the Government announced that people shouldn’t go out to eat, but failed to announce any support, it was an incredibly difficult week.

Geoff Bligh and Phil River of Hank's Pub and Food in Ipswich which caters to the town's growing vegan community. Picture: Neil DidsburyGeoff Bligh and Phil River of Hank's Pub and Food in Ipswich which caters to the town's growing vegan community. Picture: Neil Didsbury

“None of us had ever dealt with anything like this, so it was totally new ground. We took the decision to close the pub before we were told we had to, as it seemed the right thing to do. At about the same time, we could see the shift in spending at the deli – people were coming to shop rather than eat – and really from that, our current situation was born, he added.”

With the pub currently closed, the team at Hank’s focused all their efforts on keeping the deli open in order to supply the people of Ipswich with a delivery service during lockdown.

Geoffrey said: “We started off by putting pictures on social media and taking email orders – which was fine for the first day, but once it started to catch on, it became really tough to stay on top of.

“Luckily, the company we use to run our restaurant software could quickly adapt a function for takeaway ordering and upload our product inventory online – so people could browse and order. And from there, it just exploded. Our catering suppliers have been an incredible support – having big inventories of bulk food and us in the middle to distribute it all has really worked well,” added Geoffrey.

Some of the fresh produce available from Hank's Deli & Shop Picture: Geoffrey BlighSome of the fresh produce available from Hank's Deli & Shop Picture: Geoffrey Bligh

Some of the goods available at Hank’s for delivery include bread, frozen food, tinned goods, pasta, rice, fruit and veg, as well household supplies and pet food.

But their best-seller? “Flour,” Geoffrey said. “And then everything else. There isn’t anything that isn’t selling. Non-vegans are buying loads of fruit and veg and store cupboard basics, and vegan/vegetarians are flocking to us for all the products that grocery stores call ‘speciality’ but we call basics.”

With an expansive stock and a number of customers placing orders with Hank’s throughout the day, the independent business is making sure they’re as safe as they are efficient in their deliveries, in order to comply with necessary social distancing measures.

Geoffrey said: “We take specific notes from people about how they would like their delivery made, so everything from ‘leave it on the step’ to ‘behind the bushes’, but mostly we leave the crate on the step, they unload their shopping and then we retrieve the crates.

A recent stock of flour, available for purchase Picture: Geoffrey BlighA recent stock of flour, available for purchase Picture: Geoffrey Bligh

“We are very conscious of the environment, so use as little packaging as we possibly can – so everything comes loose if we can.”

Hank’s Deli does regular runs to Sudbury, Stowmarket, Aldeburgh and even as far as Eye. “We haven’t restricted ourselves too much, and really hate to say no to someone who is stuck and cannot get food or supplies,” Geoffrey said.

“This is totally new for us – so we forget things or get things wrong – but being a small business, we can always pop it back next time or include it with their next order. And of course if you call us, we answer the phone in the store so can help out straight away.”

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With the overwhelming support Geoffrey and the rest of Hank’s have been receiving from their loyal customers, he can’t wait to move forward and continue building his business once normality has been restored.

Geoffrey said: “Funny enough, with the pub being temporarily closed and the shop business increasing so much – it has actually been the perfect opportunity for us. ‘Silver linings as they say.”

“We have always known the shop part was too small from last summer – it has been just so busy all the time. And now, there is real demand for the products we offer. We have been really surprised at the response and openness of people to try new things.

“Our customers are amazing to put it simply,” he said. “Everyone we see is really positive and I think the people we meet are adapting well.”

Visit the website to see Hank’s full range of products and to place your order for delivery.

10 top picks from Hank’s Deli & Shop

Stock up on some vegan-friendly favourites available for delivery – from those basic essentials, to the more specialist

Strong plain flour 1kg, £1.69

Shredded jackfruit, £3.29

Koko coconut milk drink, £1.89

Marigold braised tofu, £2.99

Alfredo mac and cheese, £3.89

Vegetable gravy, £1.79

Red velvet cupcakes, £1.25

Gluten-free superseeded oatcakes, £2.39

Organic rye bread, £1.99

Coconut and seed muesli, £4.99


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