Page 26 - MarketTimesApril2020
P. 26

 The derelict former paper mill that is now home to Mercato Metropolitano (MM) didn’t look as though it had the potential to become a fine food emporium attracting millions of people through its doors every year.
It was dank and dilapidated and security staff with dogs were hard-pressed to keep the squatters and junkies away.
But Andrea Rasca, a Milanese entre- preneur with a passion for food, knew im- mediately he saw it that it was the perfect location for his vision of a community market selling the finest produce and hot food from all over the world.
And how right he was. Mercato Metropolitano has been a runaway success in its Elephant and Castle base on Newington Causeway, with sales growing from £9 million in its first year to an estimated £23 million for this year, and an average of 60,000 people visiting the market every month.
A second community market which opened in St Mark’s, a former church in Mayfair, has met with similar success and two more MMs are in the pipeline. Both will be new builds. One planned for Ilford is backed by a £1.4 million grant from the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the other will be in Elephant Park where a property developer decided a new MM would be the ideal community food hub for his new residential development.
And MM is not just a commercial success. Andrea’s vision is for a food movement to revolutionise the relation- ship between London, the people who live in the capital and the food supply chain.
In Elephant and Castle, MM is delivering
community initiatives benefiting a whole raft of people, from start-up food businesses, specifically those run by women and refugees, to healthy food initiatives which give children who may struggle to get a cooked meal during the school holidays a nutritious lunch and a lesson on how to create a healthy, cheap meal from accessible, healthy fresh produce.
As well as its food produce hall, its maze of food halls with communal dining tables, and its own micro brewery, the community market is also home to a cinema, theatre performances and live music.
And there are community initiatives to bring lonely local people into the market including lunches organised with Age UK.
So how has the MM phenomenon taken root in the UK’s capital so rapidly?
It’s all down to an inspirational native of Milan and his hand-picked team of like- minded people who believe in the MM ethos and are committed to delivering what they believe are the best community food markets in the world.
Andrea traces his vision back to the evening meals cooked by his stay-at-home mum in Milan where the ingredients were the finest and freshest available and the family came together for a simple but delicious dinner.
After school he studied economics in different countries including Italy, Spain and Japan, but decided that he wanted to start a business from his big passion in life, which is food.
There were different start-ups in various places, but the turning point came in Milan in 2015 when Andrea was invited to
participate in the big food expo. “I realised I simply could not get
involved when I found out that the two sponsors were Coca Cola and McDonalds,” Andrea said.
Then he walked into a disused railway station in the centre of Milan and thought it would be the perfect place for an authentic food expo. He transformed the space into a food hall extraordinaire that attracted more than two million people and generated millions of euros in food sales in a matter of months.
Sadly, there was no opportunity to extend the six-month lease, so Andrea turned his sights to London, a city he has always visited and loved. The hunt was on for a similar project in the capital.
London friends were soon making suggestions, but Andrea found the old paper mill and knew it was just right.
“I contacted the owner, the Peabody Estate, and they were happy for someone to take it on. There was no water, gas or elec- tricity and it was in a really bad state with squatters in the building,” Andrea said.
When Peabody wanted to talk about rent, Andrea explained that he doesn’t pay rent — nor does he take rent from his traders. He provides their market spot and all the services from heating to cleaning. Each trader pays an agreed percentage of their takings and Andrea pays the landlord a percentage of the overall takings.
It is unconventional — but it works. “It means everyone fails together or everyone succeeds together,” Andrea said.
“Peabody originally gave me a one-year lease which was a risk because I had to create a market from scratch,” he said.
  Andrea Rasca, the founder of Mercato Metropolitano (MM), is pictured with Vicki Exall, head of community partnerships, design and managing strategic partnerships for MM
Anton Borkmann is one of three young friends who set up an authentic Bavarian brewery in the Elephant and Castle MM and now run a second one in the new Mercato Mayfair

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