2366 Rice Village Boulevard
Houston, Texas 77005
713 522 6868
April 2004–Originally from England, I have been brought up around particular British foods. Shepherd’s pie, rice pudding, roast beef with beautiful brown gravy, and so sweet Cadbury chocolates. So it’s a hard thing to have to try and find new chocolate or food that I like. American food is very different from British food; spices for one are not used very much in England, but a huge additive in American cooking. White gravy is more traditional in Texas and southern states, while brown gravy is traditional in Britain . Successfully I managed to find a store here in Rice Village called the “ British Isles .” This was good for me because it reminds me of home and allows me to adjust to this new culture easier. At the store they have a wide variety of English foods and products, and most all my favorites. While the cost of importing can certainly be felt in the price, some things are just worth that little extra. Follow me and I will give you a tour of my secret ecstasy.
Nestled in the heart of Houston is a small community known as Rice village. Situated near the Galleria area, the village is like a large International marketplace. A sundry of shops decorate the streets and provide for a shopper’s paradise. The village is home to a multitude of different International and American stores, with goods ranging from dishes to food, and shoes to toys. The area, with its clean and polished exterior makes for a subtle yet special sight. This neighborhood is extraordinarily popular in its own way, merely because of its simple qualities, selection of merchandise, small cafes, and interesting bistros. Here is where you find my piece of heaven, the “ British Isles .”
Stepping inside the store is like walking through the transporter on Star Trek, finding myself teleported back to England . The feeling is overwhelming when you first step through the glass doors and see what is laid out before you. One half of the room is dedicated to their beautiful china and crystal, held on such delicate glass shelves that it’s tempting to touch. The fine china is decorated with pictures of the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben. Beautiful hand painted items, each with a reminder of a country that was my home. The other side of the store holds treats of chocolate and other foods with English lore. Chocolate is the gift of the gods, at least in my opinion. The smell of chocolate and cookies is unforgettably delightful. All my favorites, Smarties, like American M&M’s, Quality Streets, a collection of filled chocolates, and candy bars line the shelves. My favorite candy bar is called Bounty, it is like an American Mounds bar, just chocolate and coconut, and my other choice is Mars but not like the American version, this one has no nuts. I could go on and on about my most loved chocolates, but it is best to say that I never met a chocolate bar I didn’t like. So to whom do I owe this luxury of having a little of England right here in Houston, a man by the name of Guy Streatfeild.
Guy Streatfeild is the owner of “ British Isles ” and was born in Kent , England. Guy is a typical “Brit” with stoic features and perfect mannerisms. Originally, the store was called “British Market.” It was opened in 1971 by an Englishman named Robert Wells. Despite eighteen years of success, Robert decided to sell the store in 1989. In October 1993, Guy bought what was left of the “British Market” from Robert at a public auction. Guy said that when he started there wasn’t much there, and he basically had to start from scratch. He also said that he had no experience whatsoever with retail, and although he has a degree, it wasn’t in anything that would help with owning a store. “I was pretty brave to start something like this,” he exclaimed. He was lucky because Robert was nice enough to help teach him the necessities of running a store, although Guy said it was “very hard work.” Expressing his gratitude toward Robert, Guy told me that “having Robert telling me what to do helped a lot.” The store officially had its Grand Opening in November of 1993, which Guy said was the best time because it was close to Christmas and people were looking for that unique gift. It is also important to note that the “ British Isles ” is built in the same location that the old store was situated. With Robert’s help, and Guy’s perseverance, the “ British Isles ” was born.
As I said, this store is like a small piece of England in Houston with all of my favorite things surrounding me. I remember the first time that I stepped into the store; the sound of the chimes as I entered, the sight of the friendly cashier, and my senses becoming instantly aware of the aisles of chocolate. I felt that I had to look at everything and take it all in at once. Every time that I walk through the doors I feel like a 5 year old wanting everything I see, picking up candy as I go along and not realizing the massive amounts of chocolate in my arms. Being as I have grown up with British chocolate, I can taste the difference between it and the American brands. I am not sure if it is the cocoa, or the cream, but like 18k gold to 14k, there is a definite difference. I never truly believed that I would miss a certain chocolate bar or cookie but I guess that once you have grown accustom to something it’s extremely hard to give it up. Now I know that I sound like an addict, and to be honest I am, but you have to understand that this particular store is one hundred percent me.
They don’t just have chocolate as I said before, but surprisingly enough they even have the shampoo that I used to use and English newspapers which is always good to see what they say is going on and keep up with other things that don’t make the news here. It always seems to be a new experience when I go to the store because I find new things that I hadn’t seen before. Of course the owner has his favorite items as well. In the interview, he told me that he and his wife enjoy the tea, oats and curry powder, and quite a few other things for their sons also. The store isn’t just for English patrons, but for all consumers as it contains many tourist items with different English landmarks on them.
I have seen people buy sets of dishes and plates from British Isles simply because of the artistry of a traditional thatch cottage and for the reason that it was made in England . It is funny to hear other customers talk about the products, whether they are from Britain or not. One lady that I remember came in with her sons, and was the typical English person, speaking of crisps and sweets (chips and candy). Others I have seen in the store are looking to see what they can buy that is different, and looking for an adventure in something new. The store is filled with so many choices, and varieties that I didn’t even know England had so much to choose from.
To my surprise, while looking on the internet I came across the “ British Isles ” website. I thought that it was very informative and easy to use. On the homepage, the first thing that stands out is the pictures of traditional English teabags and teapots. There is also a little picture of some children’s books and an elegant looking glass. These are great choices for pictures to use on the homepage because it allows viewers to see the wide spectrum of products available. The links on the page are to specific areas of items. For convenience, they include American translations for the English language used, such as biscuits being cookies. Another thing that is very handy is the price list that is included on the site, and also the online ordering forms so that you can place your own special order. This makes “ British Isles ” more accessible to the consumers that don’t live in the area or have the time to come to the store themselves.
For me, I would have to say that there is something for everyone in this store. No matter whether you’re a chocoholic or a collector of fine china, looking for lavender toiletries, or greeting cards with pictures of English country-sides. Even though they offer this range of items their top sellers are mostly the food and candy. At Christmas they import everything that you could possibly want as gifts or decoration. In the interview with Guy he told me that the busiest times are during Easter and Christmas, and the rest of the year business remains fairly steady. Year round people come to British Isles for a multiplicity of reasons. The majorities of these consumers come from about a five to ten mile radius, and are generally British or Americans who know about Britain and Ireland. One lady whom I interviewed was Roslyn Shephard. She is originally from Scotland , and has been shopping with “ British Isles ” for about 4 years. She stated that the store wasn’t exactly convenient for her, but was “definitely worth it!” She said that her favorite purchases were “sausages, bacon, and crisps (chips).” Whether for home sicknesses or gifts the store provides needed supplies of British favors.
America has given me many new tastes and some unforgettable adventures. I’ve learned how to enjoy a little more spice in my food and found that American chocolate can be tolerable. However, the British store allows me the pleasure of having some home made treats, and a few memories of my home. The store has also allowed me to share some of my customs and favorite foods with friends here. So if you don’t have the opportunity to travel to England, perhaps you can take a trip to Rice Village and experience the British Isles , and step into my world for just a few minutes.