The greengrocer

Chris Gaish, owner at The Fruit MachineChris Gaish, owner at The Fruit Machine

With its striking branding and the best fresh fruit and vegetables in Cobham, The Fruit Machine was welcomed with open arms by the Cobham community when it opened on the high street in April 2021. Here we meet its owner, Chris Gaish, and find out about morning markets, the art of buying and just how much sweat and tears goes into fruit and veg.

People don’t believe me when I tell them I get up at 1.30am – but it’s true! I have to in order to get to Heathrow in time to buy the best produce for the day.

After between four- and five-hours sleep, I’ll wake up just as many people are going to sleep. I’ll get in the lorry, usually after bracing the cold and putting my feet in a puddle or two, and get on the M25 to head to market.

I’ll generally spend three hours each morning there. To know the market, you have to walk the market and that process involves tasting the produce beforehand. Much of what you buy from supermarkets is ripened over here, which is why it doesn’t taste very good. They also use far too much plastic. It makes me wince to see how much they use. I’ll only buy tree-ripened produce, which is in a different league. I’m pretty OCD, too, so everything has to be the best before I buy it. Once I’m happy, the vans are loaded and I’ll head back to one of our five locations to set up.

It’s a seven-day operation – and it’s hard work, too. The Fruit Machine in Cobham is the only shop we have, but we have market stalls in Guildford, Epsom and Worthing. We also have a stall at a car boot sale in Apps Court Farm. With the shop, it’s all about the presentation. With the stalls, you’ve got to get there early enough to put up stalls that are 60 feet long and 50 feet wide – and that’s before you’ve even dressed them. It’s not easy to do in the driving rain and howling wind, either.

I bought my first fruit and veg stall off a guy at Epsom Market and it grew from there. That was 11 years ago. Now there’s multiple lorries involved, lots of staff and a huge amount of logistics required to keep the business running.

Lockdown was a tough period. I really didn’t want to lay anybody off, so we started selling and delivering fruit and veg boxes. It kept everybody in a job and meant that we could continue trading. We didn’t have the clear run I was hoping for as we opened midway through the pandemic, so I’m hoping that 2022 will be a great year.

After a 1.30am start, I’m generally finished by 7pm – but even then, I’m often dealing with orders from our wholesale customers at the same time as I’m eating my dinner, so it never really stops. Not long after that I’ll head up to bed. My wife, who is company secretary and works in the shop, is used to it these days. She’ll read and watch TV with our daughter; we’ve all got our own routine now. Then before you know it, I’m up before the birds and back on the M25 again.

Still, it’s all worthwhile – especially when you get good feedback from the local community. It’s also nice to be a part of the local community and provide a service that people appreciate.

The Fruit Machine. 39 High St, Cobham KT11 3DP

Are you looking to move in and around Cobham? If so, contact Grosvenor Billinghurst, a Cobham estate agent located on the High Street. Pop in to say ‘hello’ or contact us on 01932 588288.

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