Wednesday lunchtime in south east London, a traditional pie and mash shop is packed full of an eclectic mixture of regular customers and TV news crews. They’re jostling for space in the small shop, which has found itself at the latest frontline in the increasingly acrimonious public debate over veganism.
A.J Goddard’s hit the headlines the previous day when several news outlets claimed that its closure was down to the rise in popularity of veganism among residents in the now-trendy area of Deptford, where the shop has been for the last 128 years.
In fact, the main reason the shop is closing is less likely to make it into a magazine feature about zeitgeist culinary trends. It involves not Instagram-loving plant-based food bloggers, but local Lewisham Council.
So how does it feel to be at the unwitting centre of a culture war? Manager Simon Clarke, who bakes the pies and runs the shop, said that on Tuesday someone called him up and asked a few questions about it closing, which they had announced on Facebook.
The person didn’t identify themselves as a journalist and The Daily Star, who first published the story, told Clarke when he called up to complain that the reporter was “independent”.
In fact, the copy for the Star’s article looks to have been provided by the news agency, SWNS.
In the article, Clarke is quoted as saying: “People that have moved in around here over the last few years are definitely into fad diets.
“I’ve had a few people come in off the streets asking if I do vegan pies. It’s like some kind of bad joke – we’re a traditional pie and mash shop, of course we don’t sell vegan pies.”
However, he said he had been telling the journalist that if people called in advance, he would make a vegetable pie and that his words were twisted.
“I was telling him that I would cater for certain people who come in,” the businessman said. “It’s not on the menu because we’re a traditional pie and mash shop but if anyone came in and asked me to do a veggie pie, I would go and do them a veggie or vegan pie.
“But that’s not what he put. He twisted it around. All my customers know full fact that I wouldn’t come out and say something like that.”
In fact the pie and mash shop is relocating. It will be closing its doors on Deptford High Street on 7 October, and then move to a new place in Kent.
The shop, which proudly displays pictures of celebrity fan rapper Professor Green on the wall, doesn’t look like it’s changed much over the years.
For the £3.50 meal deal, you are served a homemade minced beef pie, a large helping of mash and a dollop of meat gravy – or, if you are doing it properly, “liquor”, a savoury parsley sauce.
The pies can also be ordered for takeaway, or even bought frozen for people to cook at home themselves.
Explaining the real reason for closing the Deptford shop, while waiting for more pies to come out of the oven, Clarke said: “We are moving due to rent and repairs on the premises. The repairs aren’t being done and they are taking it back. It belongs to Lewisham Council.
“The rent and rates have gone up and I have a feeling they know I can’t afford it because my customers are not here no more.
“Everyone is up in arms about it, but at the end of the day if your clientele isn’t here, you have to go where they are. I am hoping to find a place in Sidcup Manor in Kent.”
Clarke, however, does acknowledge that gentrification has played its part.
“Most of the people who have been brought up in Deptford have been coming in here thirty or forty years and they have moved away because times have changed. They have moved down that way.”
Unlike similar outlets such as fish and chip shops which often now sell kebabs and burgers, Goddard’s hasn’t diversified its menu. Clarke, however, hasn’t been tempted to branch out, saying its an “old school pie and mash shop and always will be”.
People have come in to the shop in person and offered to set up crowdfunding pages to help keep it open, but he doesn’t think that will help. “I think the only way we could stay open would be if we managed to buy the whole bloody building. But if the clientele aren’t living here, and they aren’t coming in, I’m not making any money.”
He added: “Everything has disappeared. When I first started here, there were bakers, butchers, florists. They have all gone. I think Deptford has had its day, sorry to say. We used to have queues out the door and five people serving. Now it’s just me. It is really sad to be closing.”
For the regulars, many of whom flocked to the shop on hearing the news, it’s a big blow.
At the counter, Mel Brett, 58, is waiting for his order but the kitchen is backed up thanks to the media attention. Brett, who has been coming here for at least 50 years, is happy to wait.
He remembers coming in as a boy and how it was always packed back then.
These days, he tries to come when he can from nearby Greenwich, where he lives, so he can bring his elderly parents back a treat. When he told them the news it was closing, they weren’t too pleased.
“They really like it. They’ve been having it for years as we’re from this area. I was gutted when I heard it was closing. I came in here all happy and then saw they were closing down,” he told HuffPost.
“This is different to other pie shops. It’s special. I love the way he does the meat. He does it nice. Everybody else puts all gravy and other stuff in it and it’s not the same. This is more traditional.
“There is one in Greenwich but to me that’s not as traditional. It’s like with wine, you know the difference. Or with Pepsi and Cola, I know the difference.”
Brett said although it was good that the business would reopen elsewhere, it was a shame that Deptford would lose the pie and mash shop. “It’s not the same round here as it used to be. It’s happening everywhere. It’s all down to money.
“London is too dear and this is close to London and easy to get to so all those with money are going to move in here. And that’s what’s happening. All the ordinary people get pushed back again. I just think it is a shame.”
He added: “The high street used to be packed and the market is half the size it used to be. Now it feels like we’re not allowed round here anymore. I suppose things have to change but it doesn’t have to change that much.”
Susan Hart, 52, who has been coming to the shop since she was 15, has just scraped her plate. She was gutted to hear it was closing down.
She said: “Now I don’t come as regular as I should do because my children don’t really like it ... They are really into hot jerk food. My little boy, who is 12 now, used to love it. He doesn’t like the mash but he used to come and have pie and liquor with me.”
“It’s more the older generation who like pie and mash. I love it but that’s because I have been brought up on it,” she added.
Hart said she hasn’t been for two months but when she heard it was closing, she was determined to pay a visit.
“It’s been here years and I just don’t understand why the council don’t want to help keep it here. I think they just want to take the property back.
“Deptford has takeaway shops and all that but I still think it needs a pie and mash shop because it’s part of the heritage so I don’t think it’s fair. I just think it’s sad.”
Clarke said it’s an old school meal and understands that the younger generations who have moved to the area may not be fans, or simply may not know about it.
“You either love it or you hate it,” he added with a shrug.
Lewisham Council have been approached by Huffpost UK for a comment.