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Q&A: Michael Hickson

The owner of the new Hickson & Daughter greengrocers stand on seasonality, sourcing and how Borough Market turned his life around 


Greengrocer Michael Hickson has been part of the Borough Market community for over two decades, working on the Elsey & Bent stand. After Elsey & Bent closed last year, Michael decided the time had come for him to run a business of his own, so pitched to take over the vacant space. His new venture, Hickson & Daughter, opened in February.

You’ve been at Borough Market for more than 20 years. What was it that first brought you here?

I was 17, and being a proper little adolescent, if you know what I mean. I was getting in a lot of trouble, causing all kinds of bother for my dad. My dad had a friend in the wholesale trade, and he said: “Do you want me to get Michael a job?” I came here to work for Elsey & Bent, and I didn’t look back from the moment I started. It was a complete eye-opener. I grew up round a council estate and fruit was a luxury for us. I’d never even seen an avocado before. I remember seeing raspberries on the stand for the first time and being: “Oh wow!” I knew what a raspberry was, obviously, but I’d never seen them in such quantities. I took to it straight away. I liked the whole aspect of talking to different people. I liked the whole aspect of designing the displays. It was right up my street.

Apparently, your family connections at Borough run deep…

I didn’t really know much about it when I started here, but a lot of my family history is here. All the men on my dad’s side had worked at the wholesale market at some point. I had great-uncles and great-grandads who’d been in the trade. My dad had worked up here as a boy and he used to say things like: “Oh, Great-Uncle Arthur had a heart attack right there on that spot!” Borough’s changed so much since those days. When I first got here, the retail had only just started and there was no hot food at all. It’s so different now.

Michael Hickson of Hickson & Daughter at Borough Market
Michael Hickson of Hickson & Daughter

Tell us about the name, Hickson & Daughter. Where did that come from?

So, I’m a separated father, and we have joint custody of our daughter, Millie. I have her four nights a week, and she’s such a massive part of my life. She’s my world. I just thought, I’ve been around markets for so long and I’ve never seen an ‘& Daughter’ sign. I’ve seen so many ‘& Sons’ everywhere. And it was it obvious to me: Millie’s only seven now but she’s going to be a massive part of this, and it’s about time we had an ‘& Daughter’ sign up there. Also, my father passed two years ago, and having that link to the Market through my dad, I wanted his family name up there as well. Hickson & Daughter was the perfect fit, really.

How would you sum up what Hickson & Daughter is all about?

We’re a proper traditional greengrocers. We’re expressing the history of this place as a fruit and veg market. It’s about being here for the community, for the locals. No bells and whistles, just proper high-quality produce, locally sourced whenever we can, set out on beautiful displays. It’s all about the display for me: my ethos is that we should always have the best display in the Market – and I believe we do!

As the seasons pass, will we see those displays changing dramatically?

Yes, a hundred percent. There’ll be one corner of the stand, right at the front – the main show – and that’ll be very seasonal, whatever time of year it is. At the moment it’s a bit harder, because there’s not really much about. The veg is pretty good, but the fruit side is a bit higgledy-piggledy. But as the seasons go on, it’ll have all the British berries, then the English plums, then the apples will arrive. I quite enjoy the English asparagus season – you can really get your teeth into that. You go all-in for a short six weeks and then it’s over before you know it. And obviously British people love their own produce, so they get really excited by British asparagus – it’s quite a passionate six weeks!

So, where are you sourcing all this produce from?

I try to get the seasonal stuff direct. I’ve just received some carrots and beetroot from Royal Oak Farm, who are an organic-based farm. That was my first order. And then some potatoes from a farm in Kent. As I go on, there’ll be, like, four, five, six items a month sourced direct from separate farms. It’s hard – I’m getting a lot of people saying no because they want to sell in larger quantities – but I’m getting there. For the rest, I didn’t want to be traipsing around, driving back and forth to wholesale markets, so I spoke to Grovers, the wholesalers based at Borough, and struck a deal with them for my day-to-day orders.

One of the big challenges with fresh produce is making sure as little as possible is wasted. How do you go about that?

Wasting anything is heartbreaking. I’ve seen companies who are just: “Pile it high, pile it high,” and I’ve witnessed how bad that can be. But it’s more than doable getting it perfect. I take great pride in getting the ordering right. The girls who work with me say that when I’m doing the list, I’m just in the zone. I want it to be perfect – what I order, the amount I order. When it comes to displays, there are ways of doing it: if you’re clever, you can make it look like it’s piled high without it actually being piled high, if that makes sense. And if anything is left over, we’re working with Plan Zheroes to find a good home for it.

What has the response been like so far?

Elsey & Bent had such a big regular customer base, and they’ve been really excited to see us opening. People remember me, people who live local. A lot of them have seen me growing up. They’ll come up and say: “I remember when you started at 17!” One guy was just beaming. He was like: “I can’t believe it. I’ve seen you go from that to this.” A lot of the older ones still call me Mikey – that’s my younger name. I feel like that might change now. I was always the boy on the stall. Now I’m the man!