Owner Steve Railton left his hometown just northwest of London England at the age of 18 and settled in Canada where he began a career in construction. He eventually became the Safety Manager for a large construction company in Newmarket, ON until a double hip replacement forced him into early retirement. Looking for a change of pace, Steve and his wife Val left Newmarket for Elgin County. He had always been fascinated with British stores and over the years would seek out the local British store whenever he was travelling for work to stock up on his favourite childhood treats. Steve, a true people-person, was intrigued by the idea of owning a retail operation, and thought that opening up a British store would be a great way to meet and connect with lots of new people.
A Bit of Brit provides an opportunity for British transplants and Canadians alike to enjoy traditional British candies, desserts, salty snacks, and more without having to step on to an airplane.
British chocolate is a particularly popular item. According to Steve and Val, anyone who has ever sampled chocolate from across the pond can instantly tell the difference between the North American and UK varieties. Slightly different ingredients in the UK chocolate result in a creamier texture and a sweeter taste that have even Canadians coming back for more.
The store sells a variety of Cadbury chocolates including the iconic “Flake Bar” as well as the Galaxy brand of chocolate. In addition to chocolates, A Bit of Brit offers a selection of British candies including Jelly Babies and Horehound’s to sooth a sore throat.
If you are looking to host your own authentic British High Tea, A Bit of Brit is the perfect place to stock up on biscuits, teas of all types, jams, and marmalades.
Spotted Dick, a sponge cake with raisins and currants, is the store’s best seller according to Steve. “It is a 200 year old recipe,” said Steve. “People from the UK buy it because they have always eaten it and people from Canada buy it as a joke for a family member or a friend.”
If savoury flavours are more your style, A Bit of Brit has a wide selection of Crisps (Chips) in traditional British flavours such as Prawn Cocktail, Roast Chicken, and Smokey Bacon as well as British condiments, Pickled Onions, and Branson Pickles.
In addition to imported goods, the store also carries a selection of freshly baked meat pies, tarts, and short bread cookies from Scottish bakery Grandpa Jimmy’s in Grand Bend, ON. Selections include Steak and Kidney Pie, Chicken Pie, and Cornish Pasties – a hearty meal of potatoes, meat and vegetables wrapped in pastry and traditionally eaten by miners in the UK.
During the holiday season A Bit of Brit stocks Mince Pies, Christmas cake, and various gift baskets perfect for all of your gift giving needs. Other available gift items include t-shirts, mugs, and a variety of Dr. Who, Coronation Street, and Downton Abbey collectibles.
Steve and Val have found the business community in Sparta to be tight-knit and friendly. The Village Collective Gallery and the Sparta House Tearoom among other neighbouring businesses have been exceptionally helpful and welcoming to the new business. The location is also ideal as it is a great fit to have an authentic British tea room in such close proximity to a British store.
One of the greatest joys that Steve has experienced since opening A Bit of Brit is the ability to reconnect British expats with the comfort foods of their childhoods.
“The best part is when people come in and recognize a product that they haven’t seen in years and then the stories that they have to tell are absolutely remarkable,” said Steve.
A Bit of Brit is open Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday Noon to 4 p.m. For more information about the business visit Facebook or call (519) 775-1114).