Ten Minutes with Stefano Cuomo, Managing Director at Macknade

Macknade has been in the same family for sixth generations. Fredrick Neame Snr, was the first to bring the family to Faversham, Kent, in 1847, where they farmed the land for the first five generations. During this time, Macknade Farm was one of the region’s leading growers, nationally renowned for its hard fruit, hops and livestock. In 1947 pears from the Macknade orchards were served at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Phillip Mountbatten.

By the 1970s, the world was changing, and with pressure from international exports, there was a need to diversify. In 1979, Patricia Neame (Frederick Neame’s great, great granddaughter) and her husband Renato Cuomo, an Italian native opened a Fir Tree P.Y.O on a corner of the wider family farm. What started life as a tent in a field on the family farm has evolved into what Macknade is today… a pioneering food & drink operation leading the way in the UK.

The farm is no longer farmed, but the flagship Faversham Food Hall is right at the heart of where the family started some 170 years ago.

Having recently opened his second location at Elwick Place, Ashford, we caught up with Stefano Cuomo, Managing Director at Macknade and sixth generation of the family business to discuss life during lockdown and find out more about what the brand is up to in order to keep business running…

stefano cuomo macknade

Introduce the Macknade brand to us and your role within the business.

Macknade has family and friends at its heart. We believe in creating favourite places & moments that make people feel cared for & loved… whether that’s in our Faversham Food Hall, at our new site in Elwick Place, or at home cooking up a storm with delicious ingredients that have been delivered direct to your door.

We started life over 170 years ago when my family first came to farm the land. In more recent times, my parents, Renato and Patricia, focussed on building our retail business and just last year we celebrated our 40th year of independent retail with a big birthday bash. Today we are team of over 100 people working across our Flagship Food Hall in Faversham, our exciting new site in Ashford and our growing delivery business. What is my role? It depends who you ask!! All I know is that I am hugely proud to be part of the incredible team and community that is Macknade.

Talk to us about Elwick Place.

It is an amazing site that was created as the perfect space for all day dining – from breakfast through to lunch, supper, drinks and beyond. There are several different counters offering a variety of foods, so it has an eclectic, market feel all under one Macknade roof. As well as being able to eat & drink on-site, we have a delicatessen counter and grocery shop, so you can come in and source the wonderful ingredients our chefs use to take home with you. Our opening team have been incredible and we can’t wait to be back open after what we hope will be a short COVID-19 break. Read more on Elwick Place here.

How has the business had to adapt to survive over the past couple of months with Covid-19?

I am in awe of each and every one of our team! The leadership being shown across the business is fantastic at all levels and the team have swiftly created a safe & welcoming environment for customers to shop. I know this is hugely important for everyone and our community is hugely grateful.

A defining aspect has been how our team have started a new business from scratch by creating and operating a brand new delivery service in the space of one week to continue servicing our clients. It is a hugely difficult time and we have had to close parts of the business in the short term, but it has shone a light on our strengths and all that is positive about what we do as a community day in day out.

If you could describe your business in 3 words, what would they be?

Trust. Warmth. Fun.

 Where do you see the business in 3 years time?

Where we are now, at the heart of our community and as a shop window for so many of our suppliers.

On a personal level I believe Macknade has an important role to play, as the emotive and pro-active interface between consumers and producers, underling what quality, sustainable food & drink is.

I believe that as we look beyond the present disruption we will have the opportunity to create more spaces and more meaningful jobs that deliver on our communities aspirations.

As a society,  we are looking at how we exist sustainably, with respect for our environment, whilst being able to enjoy what it is to be human, as equitably and broadly as we can, and I want Macknade to be at the heart of this.

What does it mean to you to be able to support local British businesses?

I am absolutely moulded by my community and as a front-facing business Macknade exists only because of the love and support that our community gives us.

It is not a question of what it means to support British local businesses – that is the very essence of what we are. Our only reason to exist is to shout as loud as we can for all the fantastic producers and suppliers that surround us.

To be very clear, I am also a great supporter of all the incredible work that is done and being done outside our physical borders too, and so much of it collaboratively.

I am a proud Kentish Italian shopkeeper whose role it is to showcase our wonderful local produce!

macknade fine food hall in kent Personal career highlight so far?

Being part of a team struck by uncontrollable events, that have done everything in their power (and more than they knew possible) to survive and support one another and the community. It will stay with me forever.

Quickfire round…

Favourite British Wine?

There is one for every occasion, but let’s go seasonal with Chapel Down’s Sparkling Bacchus, full of fresh green brightness & fizz that reminds me of summer fun.

Favourite dish to cook at home?

My favourite dish to cook is Al Palmer’s shoulder of Shottenden lamb (farmed only a few miles from us!), slow-roasted with spunta potatoes & purple sprouting broccoli.

Favourite UK restaurant?

Restaurant-wise, there are so many to choose from, but Nicki & Paul’s amazing JoJos, overlooking the sea in Tankerton, is a special place.

To find out more about how you can still shop with Macknade, or to plan your next post-lockdown visit, you can visit their website here.