Well… pretty much anyone with any sense and living in Cardiff will have been to Wally’s, so perhaps this needs less of an introduction than other shops. Wally’s has been squarely at the top of my “hitlist” of “must-shoots” ever since day one so when Steve the owner agreed to let me come in and shoot the store, I was almost beside myself with excitement.
If you read the South Wales Echo piece about me, you would have seen that I quoted Wally’s as the place I spend the most time and money in, which isn’t far wrong. I’m also a food writer/blogger in another life and whenever something slightly unusual is called for, you can almost guarantee I’ll be able to find it in Wally’s, so it’s been my port of call for everything ranging from lemongrass stalks to crystallised ginger – and everything else in between.
Steve Soloman, the owner of Wally's
Steve was kind enough to give me a potted history of the shop when I visited. Wally’s is a family business, named after Steve’s father Wally Salomon who founded the business many years ago. A Polish immigrant, the shop originally catered mainly for the Eastern European community and was in a different location – where John Lewis is now – only moving to the Royal Arcade in 1981. It also only used to be around half the size it is now, taking over an adjoining shop next door just a couple of years ago.
As the years went by, Wally’s started to stock foods from many different world cuisines, and now you’ll find pretty much every nationality represented in there somewhere. Particularly impressive of course are the ranges of Eastern European food, but a favourite area of mine is the Asian section with the wall of spices and the many different types of naan and poppadum. For health food fanatics (and people like me who feel the odd pang of guilt!) there’s also an impressive range of pulses, seeds and grains that make a fantastic addition to soups and stews etc.
One of the most popular areas of the shop seems to be the American section. Here you’ll find the stuff all the characters in American TV shows talk about ready for your consumption, so expect to see things like Reese’s Pieces, Twinkie bars, Cap’n Crunch cereal and lots more – the bright colours and lurid packaging make this an interesting corner of the store whether you partake in the produce or not. Other impressive areas of note are the cheese and charcuterie counters, which if you are a lover of cheese, meat or both will have you drooling up against the glass at the sheer vastness of the range on offer.
Wally’s recently had a pop-up shop in St David’s which you may have seen. As it was only on an 18-month contract, that’s now closed. When I asked Steve how that’d gone he seemed very pleased, telling me it had revealed new markets and encouraged them to bring newer things to appeal to a younger market into their main store – which is why you’ll find, for example, a sweet and chocolate counter. And speaking of St David’s, Wally’s is one store that has benefited from the new shopping centre – with its entrance only a short distance from Wally’s. Steve said that while they did notice some customer decrease while the building works were on, happily since it’s been completed the business has been booming.
It goes without saying that the range of Polish and Eastern European foods available at Wally's is fantastic
They’ve thought about expanding into other areas and cities, but for now they are happy to concentrate on the ‘home store’ which has a worldwide reputation. People from across the globe can purchase Wally’s goods on their website, and according to Steve, the shop has been mentioned as far afield as the States and is frequently included in round-ups of the best Delis/specialist food shops in Britain – which makes it all the more amazing to have right here on my doorstep! Coming in the summer will be a coffee shop upstairs, which when I visited was still a little way off completion – I can only imagine that it will be busy with all the ‘foodies’ who have come for a morning in culinary paradise and need to take the weight off upstairs.
I got to pay another visit to underneath the arcades while on this shoot as Steve was kind enough to show me the storage area. It’s worth noting because the storage is actually directly under the walkway of the arcade, not Wally’s itself, because the area directly underneath has not been dug out due to being a cholera pit back in the 1800s – an interesting, if rather unsavoury fact, that I will have to do a little bit more investigating on!
Before this turns into a ridiculously long post, I will leave you to enjoy the spendid photos from this shoot (if I do say so myself). I try not to play favourites with the arcades shops anymore, but I can’t deny that this is one of my favourite sets. There are so many that I can’t possibly squeeze them all in, so if you’re hungry for more, please head over to this Flickr set to lay your eyes on extras.
You can keep up with Wally’s at their website, on their Twitter feed and on their Facebook fan page.
As always, feedback, comments and your stories very much welcome in the comments box below. Enjoy!
Nicola, who has worked in the shop for 6 years. Other members of staff have worked there varying lengths of time, some as long as 30 years.
The Wally's storeroom, not underneath the store, but underneath the walkway of the Royal Arcade