Shop owner who 'had to learn everything' marks first year in business

Ely Oriental Groceries shop on Broad Street

Ely Oriental Groceries, which Tony Thommes (inset) helped set up, has marked one year in business. - Credit: Tony Thommes/Facebook/Ely Oriental Groceries

An Asian grocery shop owner who “had to learn everything” about what retail has to offer says he did not expect to reach one year in business. 

Tony Thommes launched Ely Oriental Groceries in the city’s market on April 18, 2021, where he was a stallholder. 

Since then, he has overseen a transformation of what started as a hobby to becoming a hit with customers in and around Ely. 

“I started it as a hobby and something to do at the weekend,” said Tony.  

“It was a new experience to have and I didn’t know if it would be something that lasts for a few weeks, months.” 

Tony, who started the business with partner Adrian, had no previous retail experience and has learned what running a business is about. 

This has been a challenge in itself over the last year, but also trying to forge a path towards progress. 

SE Cambridgeshire MP Lucy Frazer at Ely Oriental Groceries

SE Cambs MP Lucy Frazer meets Tony Thommes at Ely Oriental Groceries. - Credit: Lucy Frazer MP

“If we wanted to be serious about retail, we had to have a shop,” Tony said. 

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“I had no retail experience so I had to learn everything, like how to set up a point of sales system, invoices. 

“I didn’t expect 12 months later, I would have an actual shop.” 

Many people attended the opening of Ely Oriental Groceries’ shop on Broad Street, where Tony saw “traffic jams in the aisles”. 

The engineer has also received suggestions from customers on what new items can be brought in, as well as how to engage more people to visit. 

“We try to do things differently and open to people that might not know about Asian cooking,” he said. 

“When you see people week in week out, you start to build a relationship; it has made me feel a lot more a part of the community.” 

Tony Thommes at Ely Oriental Groceries market stall

Tony Thommes (pictured) said opening a new shop was necessary if he wanted Ely Oriental Groceries to progress. - Credit: Tony Thommes

Moving from a market stall to his own premises came at the right time for Tony, as demand began to soar. 

He now hopes to stabilise the business at the shop, which offers the likes of Chinese, Malaysian and Korean cuisine. 

“Who knows, maybe we will expand,” added Tony. 

“I have lots of crazy ideas, but I suppose the market was a crazy idea!"