Inside Hackney's newest destination: Mare Street Market

1 May 2018

This year, Marc Francis-Baum (serial entrepreneur and co-owner of Barworks, Goodlife Group, Camden Town Brewery & The East London Liquor Company) turned his attention from pubs to produce when he opened the gigantic Mare Street Market in a run-down Job Centre in Hackney. Instantly popular with locals, crowds have been astounded with the variety on offer; you can slip from rye pizzas to florists to breweries, coffee shops and even a podcast studio. In other words, there’s everything a millennial Londoner could want under one roof. Backed by celebrity chef, Gizzi Erskine, Mare Street Market is definitely the hippest new destination in London for 2018. We spoke to Marc to find out more:

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Tell us how the project started.

For the last 70 years it was a base for Hackney Council before they built the new modern block in the Town Hall. It was a really depressing building but the first thing I noticed was the sheer size of it - you just don’t come across places that big in London.

What did you envision from the building?

At first, the council had already occupied the ground floor but they were still looking to fill the floors above. A third of it was empty and the offices had low ceilings and small windows so it was hard to see the potential. But the vacated section had been stripped out and you could see the ceiling height and the big concrete pillars. I thought it was a really cool building. I knew we could do something really amazing but I wasn’t sure what yet.

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So the space came first?

Yes. I own a lot of pubs, so I knew it couldn’t just be a bar – it needed to be more than that. Politically, the council couldn’t publically give up a working council building. They wanted something community based, which could add to the area, rather than just have another boozer. I’d seen some interesting projects from people we admire, such as Caravan who have a coffee roasting club. Like them, I wanted to take it one step further beyond just selling food and drink.

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That’s how you came to the idea?

Yes, we thought it could be a food market but with different sections. As the idea developed, I sent it to Hackney Council and they loved it. A couple of years later, I realised the business model would work better if we just did the food and drink ourselves. Then we brought in other retail elements that weren’t related to gastronomy so there would be no competition.

After that, it was a case of finding the right mix of people. I didn’t want any old record shop or flower shop but I wanted people who were really passionate about their business. Rebel Rebel were priced out of Broadway Market and my plan was to bring them back into the area as I was a big fan of theirs.

The record shop came through a contact at Rough Trade East who told us about a woman who was a real mover and shaker at the shop. We heard she’d been there for 20 years and knew she wanted to set up her own place. She was a real diamond and luckily she signed up straight away.

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How about the other spaces?

We wanted to leave one space for a rotating series of pop-ups to keep it fresh and changing all the time and one priority was to build a podcast/radio station. We thought it would be a great idea to make that more accessible as it’s a fast-growing industry. The plan is to build a portfolio of podcasts. In a space like this you can rent a pop-up, record a podcast or open a restaurant - it’s a one-stop shop for launching anything you want.

With so much going on, how do you make sure it all works together?

I think it’s about having a sense of activity in the space. The coffee roasting was about including something industrial that could be made on site. People can taste it directly from the makers, which was important. It’s the same for the florist – they’re all producing. It came together naturally even though everyone was doing their own thing for their own cause but you can really feel the collective atmosphere as you walk in.

Were there any big challenges in repurposing this space?

It was political with the planning permissions. We kept getting rejected and were bewildered as we tried to do everything they suggested. Turns out it was all down to a lack of communication. In the end, it came through and everyone was really on board. A lot of people were skeptical though and didn’t get it.

How long did it take?

Four years. Most of that was securing planning permissions as well as the difficulties that come with dealing within various industries. I could’ve chosen a much easier life! Sometimes I wished it would fall through but the project refused to die and I’m glad I pushed ahead now.

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What have been the biggest successes?

The sheer influx of people - it’s been non-stop and we’ve been so shocked. We didn’t have enough staff to handle it. The furniture shop isn’t open yet because we’re at capacity. When you’re struggling to service the people who are already established in there, it gives you little time to concentrate on anything new. We’re all learning at the end of the day.

So what does the average Mare Street customer look like?

Mostly locals, which is great as that was the whole point. We wanted it to be a neighbourhood place to service local produce. Within a few weeks we had 15k followers on Instagram and 70% of the audience is female, but I don’t really know why!

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What’s the reason it’s taken off so quickly?

Gizzi Erskine has a huge social media following so that’s helped a lot. The neighbourhood has been curious to see what’s been growing in the space over the last four years and once they came to have a look the word spread easily. They see it as their place.

How do you see the space evolving?

We need to play catch up, get the restaurant open and keep on tweaking certain aspects. Through brand events, such as flower or coffee workshops, we want to shout louder about what we represent. On Record Store Day we put on an event at the vinyl shop and next we’re looking to launch products in the podcast shop. We’ve also teamed up with Brooklyn Lager and they’re flying over Fette Sau this summer for an American barbecue pop-up in the garden.

Favourite moment so far?

The shocked reaction of people coming in saying “wow” and taking pictures. Seeing the place full of people enjoying themselves is a great feeling.
Book this space for your idea: Mare Street Market Pop-Up