In New Hampshire, it’s not easy to find a package of JG Coconut Mushrooms, or a jar of clotted cream, or a can of mushy peas.
“Any dinner you would have with a pie you have mushy peas on the side,” says Stephanie Pressinger, president of The British Aisles in Greenland.
“Someone who hasn’t been to England or doesn’t know the culture would say, ‘Why would you want mushed peas?’”
The store sells imported British foods–things, like mushy peas, that you can’t expect to find on the shelves of New Hampshire supermarkets.
“We have everything you could think of,” Pressinger says. “Chocolates, cookies, candies, teas, jams–all items that would interest a gourmet food lover as well as an expat.”
Pressinger’s parents, Denise and Gerry, were born in the U.K., and started the business out of their home in Nashua more than twenty-five years ago. Since then, the business has grown into a full-time venture. They ship to restaurants, stores and British expats all over the country.
Four years ago, they opened the store in Greenland.
“We have a very large range of preserves and curds and jams that people love,” Gerry Pressinger says. He adds that the candy is kept in its own room at 65 degrees before it hits the shelves.
Biscuits and teas sell well, as do British chocolates. The British Aisles also sells Irish, Welsh and Scottish products. As Indian food has become a larger part of British cuisine, the store has added that to its shelves as well. Ninety percent of the store’s products are made in the U.K.
“There’s a lot of items,” Stephanie Pressinger says, “that are just hard to describe to someone who hasn’t grown up with it or hasn’t had it. We have a Scottish soda and we have a ginger beer, which people think is beer but it’s a ginger soda–it’s very gingery.”
Pressinger says she’s seen a renewed interest in British culture in the U.S. The store sees more customers whenever there’s a royal event, like Queen Elizabeth’s birthday or the recent birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s daughter. Pressinger says television has boosted business too.
“A lot of people now have tea parties with Downton Abbey,” she says. “So teas, biscuits, strawberry jam, lemon curd. They have a nice family gathering or have their friends over for viewing parties.”
But a lot of the customers are British expats. Doreen Moore moved here more than fifty years ago. She comes to the British Aisles every few weeks to buy the foods she grew up with–things like breakfast sausages, a cereal called Weetabix and, of course, British candy.
“It just takes you back a little bit,” Moore says. “Especially when you see all the loose candy here. I used to go to what they call the sweet shop. And that’s how they used to have the candy in all the shops,” she says, gesturing at the rows of sweets lining the wall.
It’s a sentiment, according to Gerry Pressinger, that a lot of expats share.
“The really gratifying thing,” he says, “is to see the expressions on people’s faces when they can find items that they remember from their childhood and from when they lived over in England that they can’t find in the supermarkets or they can’t find anywhere locally. And to see their joy and happiness when they have these items is, I think, very rewarding for me.”
Sometimes, expats will request foods that the store doesn’t carry. Gerry Pressinger says they do their best to get those products on the shelves.
“We’re constantly looking for items,” he says. “We go to shows in Britain and we get people from the U.K. sending us [products] over constantly for us to review and asking us to sell them.”
Importing all these foods can get expensive, and that of course means they cost a little more here than they would across the pond. But Stephanie Pressinger says many of the customers are regulars, and don’t mind the price.
“They understand that a plane ticket over there’s going to be a couple thousand dollars so, you know, if you want a cookie that’s three or four dollars, it’s really not the end of the world.”
A lot of the restaurants and stores that buy from The British Aisles have come to be regulars too. Denise Pressinger says this loyalty has helped keep The British Aisles in business for so many years.
“Nowadays, not too many business last that long,” she says. “They say if you can get over the three to five-year hump you’re going to do well–and then the ten-year [hump]–so I guess, twenty-six years, we’ve done pretty well. We have a nice following. In our wholesale end of the business, we’ve got some customers who have been with us since we first started the business. Twenty-six years.”
Over the years, the store’s online business has grown. Stephanie and her parents are at the Greenland store most days. Now, Stephanie has her first child. The Pressingers hope that what started as a hobby more than twenty-five years ago will someday become a third-generation family business.