The oldest eel and pie house family on tradition, destiny and a new Essex shop
- Credit: F Cooke
East London’s oldest established eel and pie house family have opened a new shop in Essex after the doors of their Broadway Market shop shut in 2018.
Broadway Market’s F Cooke closed after serving pie, mash and jellied eels to the East End for more than a century.
But now, Robert Cooke says he is “destined” to take on the family’s 160-year pie and mash legacy, following in the footsteps of his sister Emma Cooke who opened a shop in 2010 in Romford.
He said: “As the Broadway shop stood proudly in Hackney for 120 years and we were first established nearly 160 years ago, I couldn't sit back and watch, so I have decided to continue the family legacy and open my own F. Cooke.
“As a 5th generation Robert Cooke, I grew up in the bakehouse so it's second nature to me, as well as working in the pie shop for most of my childhood.”
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The newest F Cooke branch opened in November last year in Chelmsford, Essex, and it serves the same traditional recipe once offered at Broadway Market.
There have been F Cooke shops all over the East End throughout the family’s long pie and mash history, including a shop in Dalston which closed in 1997, one in East Ham and another in Stratford.
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Robert’s uncle Joe’s shop still stands and serves in Hoxton market, as does his sister’s in Romford.
Robert said: “They are all owned by a Cooke, its just a natural progression in some respects.
“We have never franchised.”
Robert explained how fish-monger Robert Cooke, the father of his great-grandfather, started the business and, how his great-grandfather Fred Cooke opened the F Cooke shops in Broadway Markey in 1900 and Dalston in 1910.
“We’re all called Robert or Frederick. I’m Robert Frederick and my dad’s Robert Frederick.
“My cousins is Fred and he’s got a son called Freddy.
“It’s just everyone’s called Robert or Freddy and we’ve always stuck with that tradition, which is crazy – it’s very old school.”
The fifth generation Cooke says losing his dad’s Broadway Shop motivated him to leave his job in the city as a money broker: “Everyone was working from home and the pandemic was hitting. Losing the Broadway galvanised me to do it sooner rather than maybe I naturally anticipated.
"But it was always something destined to be in my blood and to happen. I’m really proud and obviously couldn’t be happier to have opened the Chelmsford Shop.
“I’m picking up where my dad left off and where his dad and his dad left off.
"We feel a passion for it – I know it sounds silly, but we are pie and mash people.”
Robert's father Bob, said Hackney changed “dramatically” over time: “The amount of people that have pie and mash now in the Broadway is a fraction compared to what it was.”
He remembers the golden years of the dish, in the 60’s and 70’s when you “couldn’t even get in the doors”.
But while increased competition and changing demographics in Hackney led to a decline in customers at the Broadway Shop, Robert says the Chelmsford F Cooke has been a great success and he believes he is witnessing a resurgence in the popularity of F Cooke's traditional East End dishes.
The new shop is about a 45-minute drive from Hackney but Robert says many people have moved out of the East End to Essex and know the family name.
Robert said: "I do feel there has been a bit of a resurgence - which I find quite interesting. In the 60s pie and mash was huge, then I think it died a death in the 90s and now, people are starting to have it again at their weddings."
Robert is excited about the future of his Chelmsford shop and his part in sharing the traditions of his family's East End legacy.
He added: "I don't have children yet but they are definitely on the cards and, if I do have a son, it would be ridiculous if I didn’t call him Robert."
Find out more about F Cooke's history and dishes at www.fcookepieandmash.co.uk/about-us