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Local stories: Get yourself to Church Street

By Sophia Wood-Burgess

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London is a patchwork quilt of neighbourhoods; all are stitched together to make one big, brilliant city, yet each area retains its own unique personality. In this series, I’m interviewing some of the locals that enrich their community, to figure out what makes their piece of London so special. In the first instalment, we’ll meet Ricardo Garcia, a Twickenham wine merchant witnessing a burgeoning community spirit.

Writing for Foxtons, I’m usually sat at Chiswick Park head office, talking about the latest news on Help to Buy, or describing how to make an offer. So, it is a pleasure to get out and explore an area I write about. Coincidentally, it was the only way I was going to get an interview with Ricardo Garcia. We’ve played phone tag for months – he’s extremely busy these days (more on that later). So, we finally agreed, I’d come to Ricardo’s Cellar and conduct the interview between him serving customers.

When I walk into Ricardo’s Cellar, as expected, he is busy recommending cheese parings to customer. It’s fine by me, because I am immediately distracted. All along the left side and back wall you see Old World wines, local craft ales, fruity ciders, robust porters, perfectly chilled rose… it’s the same giddy feeling I got the first time I stepped in a sweet shop as a child. Ricardo hand-picks a truly impressive selection, and I’m itching to wander through and read all the labels.

Soon, he turns to me with a charming smile and a warm handshake. He leads me through, describing his day, and I suddenly feel comfortable among all the impressive craft and delicate glass. Ricardo strikes me as the kind of shop owner to whom I could freely admit I don’t know much about wine. I could mention I like plum and peppery flavours, and he’d say “ah, I have just the bottle!”

Photo: Welcome to Ricardo’s Cellar on Church Street.

I compliment the impressive selection, and he says, “The first time they come in, people ask to see the wine list,” He gestures to the floor-to-ceiling shelves of gleaming bottles, “this is the wine list.” With such variety, he finds that customers don’t have to choose their Pinot Noir by price point, or stick to the Merlot on the menu when they’d really rather a Cab.

We sit at a table by the back, facing the wine list. We’ll pause the interview several times as he goes to help customers. Some he greets by name; they’re popping in to get their favourites. Some know Ricardo’s Cellar mainly as a wine bar, and are here to catch up with a friend over a glass. Others are first-time visitors to the area. Ricardo sets a visiting couple up outside with craft beers and a view of the street that is so incredibly lovely, they come back in for seconds and thirds.

Photo: This refreshing, summery Pale Ale, Paleface, is one of the beers under the Ricardo’s Cellar label, brewed to Ricardo’s vision by top area brewers. I’m also marking my calendar to try the festive drink that began the label – Ricardo’s Mulled Wine – this winter.

Whilst I watch him work, I learn the best way to experience Ricardo’s if you’ve got an afternoon to spare. First, explore the bottles. Peruse the white wine, red, sparkling, craft beer and ale – and take your pick. As Ricardo says, “Instead of charging crazy prices, we just put on a £5 corkage charge. So, it makes it a lot more affordable to drink something good.”

Bring your glass for a wander through Eel Pie Records, the adjoining shop at the back, then head outside to the bistro seating.

This street, Church Street, was only closed off to cars in recent years. It was in response to COVID, so that residents could adhere to social distancing while supporting local business. Turns out, pedestrianising Church Street only increased its charm. Now, you can meander down the street without dodging traffic. You can window shop without craning your neck over parked cars. You can sit outside Ricardo’s with your glass of wine and watch pampered pups brought in and out of the pet salon. Relaxing under a string-light studded sky, on a pretty planter-lined and cobblestoned lane, you can understand why people fall in love with Twickenham.

I ask Ricardo how he likes working on this street, and we turn to watch the passers-by. He says, “Church Street is a big part of the community spirit because you’ve got a lot of businesses in a fairly small space. Lots of different types of shops, different nationalities…There is quite a European feel to it, especially when the sun’s out.”

I spot the visiting couple, soaking up rays with their cool craft beers. “You could almost be on holiday in Italy,” I muse.

“Yes,” he agrees, “Bingo!”

Quite a year

Twickenham event flyerBesides running this shop, Ricardo tells me about his membership on the Business Improvement District (BID) board. The BID uses a pool of money, contributed by area businesses, on projects that enhance Twickenham for its local residents and professional community. The BID and its members are voted on every four years.

We pause the interview so he can help someone with their bill. When he returns, I ask, “why take on the BID as well?”

Ricardo sits down and back in his chair and smoothly crosses a leg on his knee. He looks so at home in his shop. “I'm very passionate about Twickenham,” he says, “I’ve lived here and run businesses here for quite a long time. [The board is] not something I get paid to do. It's just something that, with my experience, I can hopefully help get the decisions right.”

Ricardo was born in Trinidad, and his parents moved him to London as a young student. He has been in Twickenham since the 1990s, and has spent the last 19 years as a leading area wine merchant. He went from setting up and running a TGI Fridays in the airport to owning Ricardo’s Off-Licence, in 2003, before opening Ricardo’s Cellar in 2017.

Then, Ricardo says, he started to work with the BID, “just about two years ago.” We share a knowing glance, because of course, that’s when COVID struck, “It has been a challenging couple of years for the BID, but there’s been quite a few things we’ve put together in the time period.”

The BID put together TwickTraders to help local shops increase online visibility (now a part of the MyTown platform), brought awareness to local shops through TW Magazine and aided in re-opening strategies.

“It’s great to see the different events and how they work out,” Ricardo remembers. As we look back on the past few years, it seems a hugely important time to have had something like the BID in place, supporting and defending Twickenham’s local commerce.

Ricardo been putting a lot of hours personally serving customers in the shop since the pandemic, because finding the right staff is so important, and expert knowledge is such a valuable part of the Ricardo’s Cellar experience. He has also, of course, put in a lot of work with the BID. On top of all that, Ricardo’s Cellar celebrates the local community through many events. This is why the interview has been such a long-time coming – Ricardo has an exceptionally busy schedule these days.

You’ll find Ricardo’s pop-up bar at many community events through the greater Richmond borough, “we do a lot of support for local community things, like wine tastings for school fundraisers and churches.”

Twickenham event flyerThis weekend – Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the BID is putting a big screen in Jubilee Gardens to watch the tennis. Ricardo’s is running a pop-up bar for your Pimms and beer. There will also be few free movie screenings, an example of what Twickenham’s BID is doing to enhance the community.

Ricardo’s also does private events, like weddings and outdoor parties, where the great ranges of bubbly and cigars come in handy. It varies, what his customers will be interested in, “For a certain age in a certain generation, they’re accustomed to drinking some of the Old-World wines, so France, Italy, things like that. Some of the younger generation like the new world, whether it’ll be California or Australia. We tailor to the crowd. Cigars are often featured at weddings, and there we’ve got the bubbles, champagne, too.” On top of all that, the shop also holds its own tasting events, cementing its place in the community tapestry with tapas nights, cigar tastings and more.

Photograph: from sunlight to starry night, Church Street is beautiful.

A community in bloom

I call my goodbyes to Ricardo as the dinner crowd starts trickling into Church Street. I walk with the companionable hum of many conversations. Wafts of garlic and cream, cumin and cardamom beckon from the bustling restaurants. The warm glow of street lights puts a smile on my face.

On the BID website, Ricardo had said, “business and communities can have a far bigger impact when they pull together.” I’d asked him about it in our interview, and he responded, “I think it’s growing, not just with this street and the riverside development, but in response to COVID, there’s been a growing awareness. It’s people trying to be a little more civic minded and support each other. There’s a conversation, engagement, and that’s a positive thing.”

Here, I think I understand what he means. Treat yourself to a walk down Church Street, and you might too.

Up next, I’ll be interviewing another Twickenham local with a lot to say about the next few years in Twickenham, including the riverside development residents can’t stop talking about, so don’t miss it!

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