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17 March 2019

Aga of Aga’s Little Deli

Very soon, Dartmouth Road will welcome a new enterprise from Aga Czarnota of Aga’s Little Deli. Jason Kee sat down one afternoon with Aga to talk about her new venture, her home in Poland and, of course, cheese.

Aga originally hails from Kazimierz Doly in eastern Poland. She describes a beautiful small town of 5,000 people. The town is largely untouched by war, and full of restaurants, bars and galleries. Aga studied journalism in Poland and began her career with the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper covering a range of cultural issues, including arts and film. She came to London in 2003 to learn English while writing about London’s culture and arts scene for Gazeta Wyborcza back in Poland. She returned home for a short spell, but London was calling and Aga came back — first writing for, and helping to establish, Cooltura the weekly Polish language magazine in the UK. Culture appears to be in her genes, but it wasn’t long before food became Aga’s passion.

In 2005, Aga was also working at the Coach and Horses pub in Mayfair. While there she was given the opportunity to work in the Neal’s Yard Dairy Wholesale Arch in Bermondsey. Over the next three years Aga learned the cheese industry inside and out.
Aga speaks passionately about her time with Neal’s Yard, then leaving to work with Bermondsey cheese supremo Bill Oglethorpe, now the owner of the famous Kappacasein Dairy. It was while working with Oglethorpe that Aga no doubt got her taste both for retail, working three days a week in Borough Market, and for her sense of business, working on his accounts on other days.

After having worked with Oglethorpe for four years, Aga found herself at a meeting in the Sylvan Post pub which laid the ground work for the 2012 Forest Hill Society’s Food Fair in Forest Hill station’s forecourt. It’s remarkable to think that this short-lived enterprise has provided such long term benefits to the Forest Hill community. Not only did it bring about Aga’s Little Deli, but it was from here that Ruth and Nathan then opened the Forest Hill branch of the Butchery.

However, it wasn’t long before Aga decided to open her first shop. “We didn’t really think about what we were doing,” Aga said, “but the whole idea was to bring Borough Market to Forest Hill under one roof, and then see what happens.” She signed the contract for 49 Dartmouth Road in June 2012 and was open for business by September.

When asked why she chose Dartmouth Road, she said, “It was always to be Forest Hill.” This should be no surprise since Aga has always lived in this area. And now, with a family including two boys and one girl, her connections run deep. It is with understandable pride she speaks of the business she’s built and her contribution to the revival of Dartmouth Road.

Anyone who has visited Aga’s Little Deli during the past 6½ years will have seen changes here and there but the essence of the shop remains. Aga talks about the community it has created: “Customer have become friends with each other, and they have become our friends too.”

Aga’s Little Deli is a great Forest Hill success story. But one shop does not seem enough. Working with Anna Kokornacka, Aga will open a zero-waste shop and greengrocer in the former premises of Sugar Mountain at 57a Dartmouth Road. They collected the keys on March 1st and hope to open by the end of the month. The shop will champion zero waste with a range of dried goods — including beans, nuts and lentils — that will be available in bulk to take away in any size or volume. The shop will also feature “really great vegetables”, finally bringing a greengrocer back to Dartmouth Road. It will be the kind of shop Aga remembers from her youth in Karczmiska, providing a range of essentials food items for the local community.

Aga is keen to note this is only a start: “We want to see what people need, listen to our customers about what they really want.” She adds this may also include a range of vegan products though is quick to point out that, while not actually a vegan shop, it will be a meat-free one. All will be revealed in a few months.

So what of Aga’s Little Deli? When asked, Aga notes that her top three selling cheeses are Comte (her personal favourite), Colston Basset Stilton and Montgomery Cheddar. But she thinks more people should try her British goat’s cheeses like Ragstone and Tymsboro. While the fennel pork salami is the best-selling meat, she recommends Perinelli salami made close by, in Penge, by a guy from Forest Hill.

And what could make Dartmouth Road better? “Longer parking times and a fishmonger,” said Aga.

The Forest Hill Society wishes Aga well with the new venture.

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