Ruby & Scarlet is a stylish independent cookware store that opened on Felixstowe High Street on 5 November 2015. Owners Donna Johnston and Claire Noye created Ruby & Scarlet to break away from the norm of the traditional kitchen shop. The store was deliberately designed to be contemporary, light, bright and airy space.
The most important room in the house
Beatrix Potter’s 150th birthday
We visited to see for ourselves and were immediately impressed by Donna and Claire’s obvious passion for ‘The most important room in the house’; the kitchen. Between looking after a shop full of clients Donna showed me around their bright, well laid out and stocked shop starting with the summer window display celebrating the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter, worldwide children’s literature legend. Donna explained that with all the recent publicity of the event customers had really taken to the classic T towels, coasters, mugs and gift sets featuring favourites like Peter Rabbit. “With such a large passing trade here in Felixstowe town centre, topical seasonal displays provide variety – as do our local suppliers like Gone Crabbing”. We moved to another big bay window featuring good quality mugs and T towels from Norfolk-based Gone Crabbing with a strong seaside theme. Donna explains “Gone Crabbing is a great local supplier familiar to some visitors to the area and new to others – its products feature seaside characters like Steve the Seagull and Colin the Crab that appeal to children and adults on different levels and really brighten up a kitchen”.
“We try and update our window displays every few weeks to keep them fresh” Donna said as we moved on to an unexpected display of drinking jars from Kilner, producers of the iconic Kilner preserving jars. Donna explained that Kilner had moved on from their classic jars and produced this attractive range of summer drinking jars and even an enormous glass urn for lemonade or punch for those hot days in the garden.
A mine of free advice
Robert Welch and a lot more
Next to an enormous table heaving with all things to do with the preparation and cooking of pasta Donna explained to me what a mouli was (much favoured by Emma Crowhurst see Emma Crowhurst’s Kitchen Recipe) and showed me one in among a host of kitchen essentials on another table. It became clear as Donna explained the purpose and use of the implement that customers visiting Ruby & Scarlet got a lot more than a wide range of top class kitchenware – they also tap into a mine of free advice and instruction as to how to get the best from whatever they need.
As a long-time fan of Robert Welch knife sharpeners the adjacent Robert Welch display caught my eye. As with all the up market brands in the shop there was a good selection of salt & pepper mills, cheese knives, cutlery, cookbook rests and, of course, kitchen knives. Donna pointed to a separate large display of Robert Welch knives, flanked by colourful Gone Crabbing aprons and including safety-secured loose knives that customers can ‘try on for size’ – getting a sense of the heft and feel of the knife before purchase.
Donna enthusiastically moved on to another rack groaning with baking trays and tins of all sizes “this is Tala another local company, a traditional company based in Leiston that produces absolutely top quality bakeware” said Donna thrusting a reassuringly hefty and quite clearly top-of-the-range baking tin into my hand “you want a well-made product that’s going to go into the oven time after time and not peel or distort with the heat – something with a good gauge that’s easy to clean and will last a lifetime” enthused Donna.
Pans for every need
Passing a table laden with small electrical appliances from top marques like KitchenAid, Dualit, Kenwood and Krups we move on to shelf after shelf of saucepans in different sized by Stellar, Greenpan and Beka kitchen scales from the Heston Blumenthal range arranged next to a wide selection of the latest bakeware from Paul Hollywood – launched less than a month ago in time for The Olympics-delayed Great British Bakeoff (currently expected at the end of August). Donna draws my attention to some colourful disks from Charles Viancin hanging nearby “these are really good, they cover your drinks to protect from insects and, because they are made of heat resistant material, they can be used in the kitchen to allow pans to steam or even to cover food in the oven”. Apparently the material is so smooth it forms an airtight seal so you can, if you wish, lift a heavy pan with the lid just using the vacuum formed!
Expect the unexpected
A great selection of quirky tastes
Passing an exhaustive range of craft ware, more traditional Kilner jam-making equipment and more Tala cooking and baking products like cake tins cutter and rolling pins we came to an eclectic selection of some of the more esoteric local sauces and condiments. This included intriguing jars, packets and sachets from Wilkin’s salted caramel spread and Pott’s lamb & port gravy to Stokes sticky pickle and ZaraMama’s popcorn seasoning. There is something for everyone and a great place to pick up an unexpected gift.
On the subject of things you don’t normally find, we passed some candles with names like Vanilla Whisper and Sticky Apple Tart before we came to an area of mugs, glasses and cooking implements where Donna pointed out some stylish mugs by Le Creuset, Gone Crabbing and Portmeirion Ted Baker – literally a cornucopia of present suggestions right there. “The local angle of suppliers like Gone Crabbing gives Ruby & Scarlet a unique range of products and connects to resident’s and visitor’s desire to support the area” says Donna. She adds “of course not all kitchen innovation comes from East Anglia so we also offer our clients the best of the rest. A good example is Joseph Joseph, two brothers that got together to add thoughtful design to everyday items”. Donna shows me artfully crafted kitchen utensils that have a built in rest to keep sauce off surfaces after serving, a quirky chopping board that hinges to funnel chopped vegetables and herbs into a pan, a garlic crusher that rocks from side to side and an adjustable rolling pin that allows you to set accurately the width of pastry.
“So well designed are these that clients want to leave them on display – they don’t want to keep them in a drawer”
It was clear from talking to Donna and Claire that they have an infectious enthusiasm for all things to do with the kitchen. This comes through in the design and feel of Ruby & Scarlet, customers are welcomed and nothing is too much trouble from advice on issues to reactions to the latest must-have gadget “after Mary Berry used a spiralizer on the Bake Off the next umpteen customers all wanted one – so we have to keep up with trends to anticipate these customer needs” adds Claire.
Quick Fire questions
What are your customer’s favourite thing to do in their kitchen?
People are no longer cooking out of necessity, they are cooking and baking out of passion. What they are seeing professional chefs doing on TV they are now replicating and giving it a go in their own homes. Cooking has become a way for friends and families to gather – bringing people together – in the kitchen, unmistakably the heart of the home.
What are customers changing about their kitchens/kitchenware?
It’s not just a place for cooking anymore, people want to eat, drink and stay in the kitchen. Some are investing in more professional equipment, it’s not enough just to do the job anymore. Kitchen equipment has to work harder now, it needs to be efficient at what it’s designed to do, and do the job well, and it needs to look and feel good. People aren’t just buying out of practicality anymore, they want the items to do what it’s been designed to do and fit in with the look and feel of the rest of their home, albeit country, minimalist or traditional.
What’s the must-have kitchen gadget?
The Joseph Joseph ‘Rocker’ it’s a stylish tool that crushes garlic cloves quickly and easily by using downward pressure and a ‘rocking’ motion.
A bit of background
Claire and Donna met 12 years ago when they were both working for Hutchison Whampoa Limited, an investment holding company based in Hong Kong, that owns the Port of Felixstowe. Having talked about running their own business for several years, they decided at the end of 2014 that they had spoken about setting-up one up for far too long, and that 2015 was the year for them to take action. This dream finally came into fruition when Ruby & Scarlet opened its doors on 5 November 2015. Considerable care and thought went into the design and layout of the store, quite deliberately it was created to be a light, bright and airy space and not along the lines of traditional cook shops, where you bang your head on a saucepan when you walk in and there’s wall to ceiling slat wall. Everyone is welcome to come in, say hello and have a browse of the store to see what we are all about, and there’s plenty of space for people with pushchairs, and wheelchair users to get around. Ruby & Scarlet has now been open for 8 months, and it has already reached the finals for 2 awards. Nationally it is a finalist for the ‘Most Promising Newcomer’ in the Excellence in Housewares Awards, and locally they are a ‘New Business of the Year’ finalist in the Suffolk Coastal Business & Community Awards. Looking forward, Ruby & Scarlet is all about promoting the strength of independent stores and the value of having a vibrant high street within a community.