‘Poshest Spar in London’ Eat 17 closed for four days after dead mice and droppings found

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A neighbourhood grocery store known locally as the “poshest Spar in London” was shut by council officials after evidence of an “active mouse infestation” was discovered.

The Eat 17 Spar store in Walthamstow, which is renowned for its “Bacon Jam” preserves, sourdough bread, artisan products and craft beers, was unable to trade for four days over last weekend.

Thames magistrates court was told on Thursday that “two dead mice” were found alongside “numerous” mouse droppings in a storage area and “throughout the entirety of the store”.

Council officers “considered there was a risk to health” and ordered the shop to close its doors last Thursday, March 2. It reopened on Tuesday (March 7) after calling in pest control experts to tackle the problem.

Katie Chambers, a Waltham Forest council inspector, told the court: “It was clear there was an active mouse infestation.”

She added: “From the volume of mouse droppings throughout the entire area… I would say the infestation had been there for some time.”

Eat 17 has been operating from the Orford Road site, in the heart of the capital’s first “mini Holland” pro-walking and cycling district, since 2006.

With its adjacent Eat 17 restaurant, it has been instrumental in helping to transform Walthamstow from a down-at-heel east London suburb to a hipster neighbourhood where modest homes in “Walthamstow village” sell for £1m.

Eat 17 also has grocery stores in Hackney, Hammersmith and Bishop’s Stortford. It was founded by Chris O’Connor and James Brundle.

The Walthamstow store has won several awards, including The Grocer Magazine’s Best Store in the UK 2012. The following year it was shortlisted as “best store in the world”. It was a “retailer of the year” in 2020.

Ms Chambers said the discovery of mouse droppings led to a four-hour on-site investigation, with a council colleague summoned to help. Normally inspections take 30 minutes to an hour, she said.

A number of mouse traps had already been laid in the store, which the court said was evidence that managers were aware of a problem.

By Tuesday, the council was satisfied there was no longer a mouse problem and the shop reopened.

Back in business: Eat 17 has reopened after tackling the mouse infestation (Ross Lydall)
Back in business: Eat 17 has reopened after tackling the mouse infestation (Ross Lydall)

Photographs of the dead mice and mouse droppings were shown to the court. The council has refused to share the pictures with the Evening Standard.

James Brundle, co-director of Eat 17, told the court said it had run the Walthamstow store for more than 16 years, gaining awards for innovation and promoting local suppliers and products.

The shop had pleaded unsuccessfully with the council not to order its closure, fearing the financial consequences would be “devastating”. It offered to carry out the work while remaining open.

“On being closed on Thursday March 2 we immediately called out our pest control company,” Mr Brundle said. “We believe part of the issue is that the rear door is sometimes left open.”

He said droppings were discovered in “hard to reach areas”, such as behind fridges and fridge grilles.

But he said the absence of mice trapped on “glue boards” led the pest control company “to believe this is an isolated incident and not a live infestation.”

Mr Brundle said: “As a business, we take health and safety very seriously. We will be working incredibly hard to get back to our five-star hygiene rating.”

He said the shop had followed council advice and boarded up the internal access to its Eat 17 restaurant next door.

No evidence of contamination was found in the restaurant and it remained open throughout.

The court issued a “health risk condition” order declaring that the council had acted correctly. Eat 17 was ordered to pay £1,300 costs to the council.

After the hearing, the council said it had closed the store as it “believed the infestation and lack of cleanliness posed an immediate risk to the health of store customers”.

Cllr Khevyn Limbajee said: “All food businesses have a responsibility to ensure their premises are clean, tidy, and free from pests. We will not hesitate to act against those businesses where conditions may pose a risk to customers’ wellbeing.”