Montego's OFM Interview
Montego’s Market, Bedford
Launched in June 2021 and housed in a former bank, this Caribbean-influenced supermarket has links to Lee & Sons – a longstanding business that previously had outposts in Luton, Bedfordshire and Harrow.
“I’m a north Londoner of Vincentian heritage, so I remember being dragged down to food markets as a youngster and along to shops that weren’t necessarily owned by people in the community. A lot of these places, as I recall them, weren’t very appealing. There was no customer service to speak of, they weren’t enlightening environments – they were just people who had identified a niche and were driving it home. One of my friends, my junior partner in the business now and almost a mentor, had a dad who started out visiting people’s homes with a van and had been involved in the sector for 40-odd years. My background is in finance but, for at least a decade, I had wondered if we could create a version of one of these shops where it would be a nice place to visit, the customer service would be bang on, and it would put a smile on your face. Bad products, occasional rudeness – the plan was to flip that on its head.
Covid was a catalyst in that it created an opportunity at a location in Bedford – a place with a longstanding, knowledgable Caribbean community and where the void for a shop of this kind hadn’t been filled since my friend’s family left town 20 years ago. We took over what was the RBS bank and, really, what I’ve tried to do is bring professionalism and discipline to a kind of business that is normally quite an unstructured, one-man-band affair. We’re like Pandora’s box. We’ve got our own butchery, all the fresh produce you can imagine, 200 lines of products, hair and beauty, pre-seasoned curry goat meat with recipe cards, a loyalty scheme and a food-to-go area.
I’d say our demographic is about 65% Black African and Caribbean and then 35% white European and everything else. We get lots of people who are either fully engaged with the community because they’ve married someone of that heritage, or they’re just curious and want to know how to cook this stuff. We’ve also noticed that there’s a lot of crossover with a Latin demographic who love their cassava and plantain.
The plan, ultimately, is to open more shops with the same theme and really drive this movement. Because, I think, building on the work of those pioneers who sold produce out of vans, we’re bringing something worthwhile. There’s nothing like seeing someone leave with a smile on their face and a full bag. As long as that continues, I’ll be happy.”