By Duncan Powell
Holly Chaves is the owner and operator of Wine & Rind, a small but busy cheese shop tucked away in Holcombe Market off the High Road. Some Tottenham residents will likely already know of Holly, either from her store or from an encounter at the Beehive or another local pub. She is a Tottenham local through and through, born in the area to a Guyanese father and an Irish mother.
Holly exudes an air of someone both so laid back as to be virtually horizontal, but also very much in charge. She is rather younger and probably rather cooler than your stereotypical cheese and wine connoisseur.
We sat down to talk about her connection to Tottenham, and the ins-and-outs of running a one-woman wine bar/cheesemonger/toastie restaurant from a unit that’s barely 10ft across. Our conversation was punctuated by a constant stream of young mums and cheese-fiends stopping in for their midday fix – all of whom seemed to be on first name terms with Holly. The vibes were good.
Can you give a brief overview of how you ended up running a cheese shop in Tottenham?
I started out in fashion but quickly got bored. It wasn’t what I aspired to any more so I made the jump to food by interning at Meatliquor. I became their Food Operations Manager, opened a few sites for them and then got poached by Brewdog and moved back to Tottenham, which was always the dream.
After I left Brewdog, I started as a Saturday girl at the Cheeseboard in Greenwich, purely because I’ve always loved cheese. It actually got a bit embarrassing because people assumed I would be able to answer a load of questions about cheese but I couldn’t, I just loved eating it. I also didn’t know that the current manager was planning a change of career but couldn’t leave because she hadn’t found anyone who loved cheese enough to take her job. Then I came in and within a week she was like ‘I’m going, do you want to manage a cheese shop?’
How did you find working for an established business after fast-food and brewery start-ups?
The customers were great, but it was super traditional. There was an old lady who lived next door whose son was [famous musician and TV presenter redacted to avoid his mum embarrassing him]. She’d come in every day and spend £2.20 on a bit of Taleggio and if you cut it even a millimetre too thick she’d berate you and tell you that she couldn’t afford it, whilst pulling out fifties to pay. I was able to make some small changes, brought some local beers in and made it into a south London store, but there’s only so much you can do with a business that’s been there for 30 years.
I eventually got poached again by some guys opening a wine bar on Holloway Road. I was new to wine and it was a really good learning opportunity – you learn by drinking. That was great for a bit, but we had some differences of opinion, I wanted to do my own thing and we parted ways.
After the wine bar I opened Wine & Rind as a pop-up doing pop-up raclette and fondue events, private catering for parties and stuff like that. I did a month-long pop-up event under the Eurostar departures board at St. Pancras, which was really fun. I did an English Toastie and a French toastie with a classic Cheddar and a Raclette.
During that time, I was shopping at Holcombe market a lot and Dave [Dave Hall previously ran Hall’s Greengrocers but was tragically killed in a hit-and-run on Christmas Eve last year] kept pushing and pushing me to take a spare unit. I kept telling him that Tottenham wasn’t ready and that I needed something more secure, then he offered the site to someone else and that’s when I decided I wanted it.
I started out the first week doing Friday and Saturday, then I loved it so much that it was Thursday to Saturday, then two months later it was Wednesday to Saturday. It seems like you have a lot of days off but when it’s just you running a business, you really don’t! That began back in January 2018 and I’ve been here ever since.
I think I saw you described in a Haringey newsletter as Tottenham’s ‘cheese queen’. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
That’s definitely a fair description! Although maybe I would be the princess? I guess someone like Patricia Michelson (owner of La Fromagerie) would be the actual queen, but I could be the heir to the cheese throne. I like being a young(ish) person bringing a new dimension to the cheese world so it’s not so stuffy.
What is your food philosophy and how does a cheese make it on to your shelves?
By being tasty and affordable. I obviously try everything (I can’t not) and stock what I like. Then there are certain things that customers always want to see. Things like Gorgonzola and Vacherin are great, they’re not my favourite cheeses but I know they will be good sellers. In general, I like everything to be accessible and nothing to be scary. People need to be able to come in and think ‘yeah, I’d love that wine, I’d love that cheese.’ Customers appreciate knowing that you will always have a range of stuff that’s affordable and great-tasting.
Does the heritage of either of your parents have any impact on the food you stock?
With my dad being Guyanese I definitely understand the Caribbean side of the market. I stock guava jam and serve bun and cheese when it’s around. We replicated the Bajan ‘Fish Fridays’ here for a bit, selling fresh fish from the fishmonger on the other side of the market.
How do you decide which wine to stock?
I’m really well versed in drinking wine – I encounter it daily! I think I’m just lucky that I’ve been in the food industry so long I’ve run into a lot of wines and learned a lot about them. I know things like how to price them and how important the label is to customers.
People will approach me, like one of the head sommeliers for Noble Rot who lives in Bruce Grove, and he’s always telling me about great wines and bringing new things in. At the moment we have a Portuguese Vinho Verde called Chin Chin here imported by Keeling Andrew & Co (Noble Rot’s co-founders) for £10 a bottle to take away. For that price people will often come back and take a case.
I like Beaujolais so we always have one of those in [Holly gestures to a hilarious line-up of original bootleg tees hanging from the wall, including one that says ‘Beaujolais’ in the Berghaus style and another where Patagonia has been replaced with ‘Parmigiano’]. And I often get stock from Uncharted Wines, who pioneered the whole “wine on tap” thing. Wine on tap is a cool thing to have in your shop.
I can attest to the wine quality – I’m drinking a glass of the Chin Chin as we conduct our interview and it’s fantastic. It’s fruity and refreshing with a hint of fizz. It tastes like summer in a glass. I will be returning for a case.
At this point the conversation segues into the improbability of running a profitable business with a fridge full of cheese and wine on tap.
This is why I gave up wine and bread for lent, purely because you need to exercise some self-control! But at the same time, it is also about having a great day. People come down because they want a chit-chat and of course wine is a great social lubricant.
What are your thoughts on stocking local produce?
I stock whatever is best. I think we can get so caught up in this local produce thing and overlook quality because of location. I was speaking to Beavertown brewery about this last week. They were hosting a tasting session and the theme was ‘a sense of place’, so they were doing these beer and wine collabs with producers within a fifty-mile radius. They wanted some local cheese and I had to ask them ‘do you really want local cheese? Or do you want cheese that actually matches the wine and beer you’re serving?’. They were like ‘…Fair enough, we’ll have the second one.’ Things like the local hot sauce and kimchi go down really well though so having those is great for the shop.
Without revealing any trade secrets, can you tell the readers how you come up with new ideas for toasties every week?
I’m great at knowing what’s on trend, and what’s really tasty and just trying it out. Sometimes an idea will come to me late at night and I’ll run down to the Breville and see if it works. At the beginning here I spent quite a lot of time on my own so there was a lot of space for trial and error.
How would you describe the clientele of Wine & Rind?
It’s a mum and baby hangout! It wasn’t how I intended it; when you open a shop you have all these ideas about what it’s going to look like and how it’s going to be, but you can’t always make those decisions yourself. But it works great. It works to the point where a soon-to-be dad will pop down on his lunch break, meet a load of mums and he’s so overwhelmed by all of it that he comes back and leaves his wife’s number so that I can get her added to the Tottenham mum’s group. Wine & Rind has a community feel, which was unexpected but super nice.
What’s your favourite place in Tottenham (other than Wine & Rind obviously) to grab brunch or a snack?
Pueblito Paisa! On a Thursday to Saturday they have a Peruvian chef doing ceviche and other Peruvian food. It’s really good value, it’s fun and the atmosphere is great. I also love The Fountain on West Green Road. Maybe not for brunch, more for a game of pool and cheap pint. There are a slot of snazzy places popping up at the moment but with that comes £8 glasses of wine. I think we still need to remember where we are.
When is Wine & Rind open and is there anywhere else in Tottenham or London that people can find you and taste your work?
I’m open Wednesday to Saturday 10-6ish apart from Thursdays when we finish at 4. Every now and then I’ll dome something at Tottenham Green Market. Just out and about really so come say hi! Or I’ll probably see you in the Beehive.
If you want to find out more about Holly and Wine & Rind including the current menu and special events you can follow @winenrind on Instagram. It’s almost exclusively borderline-indecent pictures of toasties, which Holly strategically posts just before everyone’s lunch break.