Mercato Metropolitano crowns winning ‘dreaMMer’ who will receive a rent-free tenure in its popular food market

London-based sustainable food market, Mercato Metropolitano (MM), has announced the first trading partner that will be setting up shop at its brand-new Ilford sustainable community food market – and it will be their home completely free of charge for the first three months, as part of MM’s dreaMM initiative.

Arjun Manikandan, age 26 from Ilford, has been crowned MM’s official ‘dreaMMer’ and winner of the dreaMM initiative, securing a three-month, rent-free tenure for his business ‘The Malayali Project,’ in MM’s newest community market in Ilford.

Inspired by the vibrant culinary culture of Kerala, India, The Malayali Project aims to bring the diverse and delicious flavours of authentic Kerala cuisine to Mercato Metropolitano. The inspiration is taken from the aromatic kitchen of Kerala, and love of Arjun’s own mother’s practice in their family kitchen – which he will now be showcasing in the MM marketplace.

As part of the prize, MM will also be providing Arjun and his team with access to free 1-2-1 consultations to help create a successful and long-lasting business plan, support in sourcing sustainable, local ingredients, as well as all-important branding and marketing advice, plus much more.

Mercato Metropolitano launched the dreaMM campaign back in April this year, with the aim to help ease the strain of the current cost-of-living crisis and help one local citizen to take the first step towards turning their ‘dreaMM’ business idea into reality, by joining the MMovement. The MMovement symbolises everything that MM stands for; bringing people together through community engagement, and helping to provide good, nutritious and affordable food for all.

After a three-month-long hunt for the best foodie entrepreneur in London, which included food tastings and presentations of their business plans to a panel of judges, Arjun beat over 100 other applications to be crowned the winning dreaMMer at an exclusive ceremony event and feast at Mercato Mayfair this Thursday 29th June.

The judges included Andrea Rasca, CEO & Founder of MM, Luke Jenkins, Head of Commercial of MM, Colleen Amos, OBE from The Amos Bursary, as well as Christina Dean, Head of Content at London On The Inside, and Kate Howell, Head of Communications & Engagement at Borough Market.

Commenting on his win at the ceremony, Arjun Manikandan said:

“It was a surreal moment finding out that we won the dreaMM campaign. We felt like a minority in the top 10 finalists, because they’re all amazing, so to know that we are the winners is a really amazing feeling for me.

“Being from Ilford myself, it really means a lot to me that this campaign started there and we will be able to be based in the new Ilford sustainable food market, and bring our authentic Kerala cuisine there. People don’t really know about Kerala and its culinary values. Kerala is known as ‘God’s own country’ because of the naturistic beauty and culture of Kerala, in south India. It’s a beautiful place for a holiday, and hopefully people can experience a Kerala holiday through our food at The Malayali Project.”

“Having never run a business before, we don’t know what to expect, but we know that the MM team will be supporting us all the way and that gives me confidence to say, ‘okay, let’s do this!”

Andrea Rasca, Mercato Metropolitano’s CEO and Chief Leader of the MMovement, commented:

“It has been such a joy to launch our dreaMM campaign and to see so many enthusiastic dreaMMers share their dreams with us. Our panellists, including myself, were blown away by Arjun’s passion to bring authentic Kerala cuisine to our markets, and after achieving a perfect score, we knew we had to name him our winner. We can’t wait to see what he cooks up in our new sustainable community market in Ilford when it opens.

“I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who was involved in bringing the dreaMM campaign to life. This initiative has been a real passion product that reflects MM’s dedication to building a community around good, nutritious food that’s accessible to all.

“It was a pleasure to get to know all of our inspiring finalists throughout the dreaMM process, and one way or another, we will make sure that every single one of our finalists will be involved in the new Ilford market and join our MMovement.”

The Leader of Redbridge Council, Cllr Jas Athwal, also added:

“Bringing Mercato to Ilford is part of our wider work to transform our town centre, offering delicious food and drink to hungry visitors, and boosting our local economy. I’m so pleased for Arjun and his fantastic business The Malayali Project, winning 3 months free trading at our Ilford Mercato market. Arjun’s story of being inspired by his mother’s home cooking was incredibly moving and I’m looking forward to visiting his stall at Ilford MM soon.”

Read more information on the new MM Ilford site here or learn more about the MMovement here

Join the MMovement

MM is inviting people, companies and policymakers across London, the UK and the world to join the movement to change food culture in the country. This is an open invitation for people who believe in:

Healthy, sustainable, living food made with rural, artisanal practices

Supply chains that prioritise quality over price and make good, healthy food available

The importance of community in cities across the world, starting with London