It’s unbelievable that it’s now eight years since Marmelo started out from owner Natalie Stopford’s small Leyton home kitchen. “I began experimenting with recipes, and dreaming of creating a space for the local community to break bread together,” she says, with a smile.
The cafe’s memorable name comes from the Portuguese word for quince, a reference to the catering company she runs which makes organic preserves. Determined to open a spot in E10, it had to be the – at the time – fledgling Francis Road.
The gamble paid off. From the very start, Marmelo was the go-to where locals came to brunch with friends, get stuck into a Sunday roast or book a romantic meal in the evenings. “It soon became a place where people would gather at communal tables and get to know their neighbours, whilst enjoying seasonal, delectable meals,” she says.
Before long, Francis Road began to blossom with amazing new businesses, the majority of which were female-owned (take a look at our previous articles on Phlox, Edie Rose and Venner). “This actually led to Francis having the largest concentration of female-owned business in the UK on one street,” she says. Another brilliantly proud moment for the area, in fact.
Fast forward a few years and Natalie and her small team were able to get their hands on a unique former bakery on the corner of Francis and Murchison Road, our main pic above, with an airy upstairs area for special dining events. Marmelo & Son, with its distinctive signage, opened to cater for photo shoots and film sets, and a raft of packed (those were the days!) private gatherings.
And then, a year ago, Covid forced them – along with every other independent business – to make some quick decisions to stay afloat, and serve customers in the most supportive way possible during the pandemic.
They used the Marmelo & Son catering space to launch an online food box service and personally delivered organic goods to the door. “We then converted Marmelo restaurant into a general store and deli, offering carefully selected groceries and alcohol,” she says.
This is where we – as we’re pretty sure many of you do too – now find ourselves queuing outside several times a week. (Current fave items? Meltingly tender Swaledale sirloin, cute bottled negronis, salted caramel brownies, and, of course, the Wild Goose Bakery bread).
It was during this first 2020 lockdown that Natalie enrolled at a pottery class at Turning Earth on Argall Avenue and met her newest partner-in-crime. “Sophie is a passionate pastry chef with over twenty years of experience,” she says. “She’s creative, flavour-focused and has a real drive and flare for her craft. We decided to start making baked goods at Marmelo & Son – and, happily, they were an instant hit.”
Sophie and Natalie then decided it would be a winning idea to expand their baking bug into a full-time bakery – and could think of no better place to do it. “With the building originally having been the local neighbourhood bakery and closed for many years before we took it over, it feels like coming full circle to reinstate it into our lovely community.”
The idea is “modern Viennoiserie”, where you might pop in for a warm croissant or pain au chocolat, or treat yourself to more elaborate delicacies like an Eton Mess pastry with strawberry compote, fresh strawberries and mint, or ‘Jammie Dodger’ with raspberry crumble. “It’s about big ideas with delicious flavours, but also our own donuts stuffed with unusual things, such as, in the summer, creamy soft-serve,” says Natalie. Home-made gelato? Bring it on. There’ll even be handmade chocolates, too.
And this is where the Pay-It-Forward campaign comes in. “Sophie and I have raised some funds between the two of us, but we need specialist ovens, mixers and to upgrade both the machinery and interior,” she says. “And that’s before we even think about sourdough ovens, which will come later.”
Donating any amount has its own advantages, too. “We will top it up an extra 20% for you to spend at the Marmelo Bakery,” she says. “We also have loads of treats for you to buy, special occasion cakes, BBQ boxes for Father’s Day, a one-off meal cooked for two by me, and Marmelo totes – to name a few.”
The new bakehouse will launch in June, while the original Marmelo will remain as a store, with outside seating reinstalled from April 12th. As well as coffee, wine, canned cocktails and cold pints of craft beer will again be served, accompanied by savoury snacks including arancini and other “picky bits” to soak it all up.
With the constant threat of independent shops along Francis Road returning to residential usage, we need all the thriving businesses possible.
“By doing this conversion we will all help Marmelo secure its future in the community,” Natalie says.
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