In the latest of our feature on independent retailers, we stroll over to King’s Road and the Santar deli to meet owner Sandra Fernandes who is bringing the tastes of her native Portugal to enthusiastic customers.
Making the life-changing move to work behind the counter of your own Portuguese deli from working behind the steering wheel of a large Harrogate bus is not a story you come across every day.
Sandra did exactly that when she and husband Toni opened Santar deli. After moving up from London, she had spent 15 years transporting passengers around the town as they went about their daily lives – then came the deli.
As she describes her own upbringing in the Portuguese village of Santar – from where the deli gets its name – and her family’s longstanding passion for food, her change in direction starts to make complete sense.
“My family ran a café and restaurant in Santar and I helped out and then when I came to London I worked in coffee shops and restaurants run by members of the Portuguese community,” she says.
When she was growing up, during the school holidays she would join in the annual harvest of the grapes and olives that grew in abundance around Santar, which is in the north of country. This experience is where her love of fresh produce comes from, she says.
Santar deli was originally going to be a café and restaurant. “It was all planned,” explains Sandra. “I had a book in which I wrote everything down that I wanted to sell.” But then the plan changed, “It was so expensive,” she says in a matter-of-fact way.
So, the idea that was the café and restaurant became the reality that is Santar deli, selling a range of food and drink that leaves customers with no doubt about its origins.
Portugal is of course the largest source of the mouth-watering range of sausages, cheeses, breads, red and white wines, charcuterie, sauces, oils, vinegars, crisps and pastas.
Some Italian products can be found on the shelves and unexpectedly, though perhaps not surprisingly when you think about it, also tea, sweets, flour and other products originating from Brazil. The deli caters for passing trade on the busy road by serving coffee, sandwiches and cakes.
And it takes just the one glance in the freezer to leave you with no doubt that the deli is indeed a little part of Portugal in the heart of North Yorkshire; large bags of sardines rub frozen fins with octopus, stuffed squid, whitebait, salt cod and other fruits of the sea.
The customers love it. Sandra has seen that many of them are people who holidayed in Portugal and have come back home to discover that the local dishes they fell in love with while they were out there are available right on their doorstep.
She gives an example: “One afternoon a lady came in looking for Manchego cheese, which is from Spain. Now, we sell Casteloes, which is a Portuguese cheese and she saw it and literally screamed with delight because she’d had it on holiday and loved it so much and didn’t know you could buy it right here in Harrogate.”
On another occasion, a lady came in and spotted the Portuguese almond liqueur Santar deli stocks. “She immediately bought a bottle because she had been drinking it on holiday in the Portuguese way, with a little squeeze of lemon and was delighted she could drink it here too.” Sandra recalls.
Sandra loves their location on King’s Road, which she reckons possesses a community feel all of its own. Daughter Mariana, who is a media graduate, also works in the deli while she plans her future.
Remarkably, she used to drive her bus along the road, passing not only where Santar deli is now but also the jewellers Shine, a few doors along, which is her own independent retailer recommendation.
She likes the place for its great gifts, jewellery and key rings and says they do home fragrances with anything you ask, all topped off with great customer service.
Great customer service is always at the front of Sandra’s mind too. Lessons have been learnt, she acknowledges. “At first, we sold the things that we liked but all that has changed and now we are thinking about what people want,” she says, adding: “The dream is to open lots of little Santar delis everywhere, perhaps in 10 years’ time we’ll be in Wetherby, Ripon and York.”
With ambitions like that, one thing that is as clear as the bottles of Portuguese mineral water in the Santar deli fridge is that Sandra won’t be needing her Passenger Carrying Vehicle driver’s licence any more.