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July 12, 2011

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Auto engineer all jammed up

AUTOMOTIVE engineer Amelia Heaton-Renshaw drove from London to Ulan Bator in Mongolia on a rally - and decided she might as well roll on to China. Nie Xin reports.

Amelia Heaton-Renshaw has come a long way from auto engineering - now she has engineered a new career in homemade jams, chutneys and condiments.

She and three other expat women, plus a Briton and a Chinese, recently opened the Pantry cooperative on Nanyang Road near Plaza 66 in downtown Shanghai, selling homemade organic treats. These include lemonade, hummus, tzaziki, peanut butter, yogurt and granola cups and British-style sandwiches, plus jams and chutneys.

In October 2006 Briton Heaton-Renshaw arrived in Shanghai after completing a car rally from London to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. Having made it that far, she decided to drive east.

"I was going to see what China was all about," says Heaton-Renshaw, who graduated from Leeds University with a degree in automotive engineering. She worked in that field for two years in Shanghai before deciding she wasn't cut out for it.

Her family has a Shanghai connection. Her great grandfather worked in shipping in the 1920s and her grandfather was born in the city.

"I had no idea what I wanted to do after university, so this (working in Shanghai) was a good way to escape from making a decision," she says.

As an automotive engineer, "I found it hard to live here. I felt very claustrophobic and wanted to get out," she recalls.

Then the global recession came along and business dried up. She was tired of not having a plan and not being in control of her life.

"I knew I wanted to work for myself for a bit and I was dissatisfied with the jams and chutneys on offer in Shanghai," she says.

Born into a family that always made or grew almost everything on the table, Heaton-Renshaw missed homemade food and decided to try her hand at a bit of preserving.

Two years ago she started Amelia's jam & chutney store in her home. Then she moved to a new kitchen, which is part of Studio 5 on Jiashan Road. The creative space is filled with small, start-up companies, all doing different things.

She uses only traditional recipes and natural ingredients, the best locally sourced seasonal fruits and vegetables. There are no artificial colors, preservatives or flavorings, she says. Everything goes well with bread, cheeses and meats, hot or cold.

Her favorites are raspberry jam, pipa (orange-colored Chinese plums) jam and yangmei (bayberry) jam.

"You must use the unripened fruit," she says. "It's almost a little too tart to eat, but it makes the most delicious jam since it's not too sweet."

She buys some organic fruit directly from the farm, but it's so expensive that it eliminates a large portion of customers because the price of jam is so high. Mostly she buys in bulk from big suppliers.

"This has taken some serious organizational skills," says Heaton-Renshaw, who has never run a business before or studied business. "I have learned so much and still have so much more to learn."

She connected with three other expat women, a Briton and a Chinese woman, who are enthusiastic about homemade organic food and desserts; together they operate the Pantry as a cooperative.

Jenna Suharto from New York established Oh My Goodness to make organic cupcakes. American Leslie Comstock runs Strictly Cookies that delivers fresh cookies to the door. American Christine Asuncion's Spread the Bagle is an online delivery service offering a wide range of traditional bagels, freshly baked to order. Trenchers sells fresh British-style sandwiches; it was founded by Briton Colin Clark and Pan Mao from China.

"There will be more (stores) coming, but slowly so we can make sure there's control over quality," Heaton-Renshaw says.

The products can be found at a number of retailers around Shanghai and at most fairs and markets during spring, summer and autumn. Products are available at Jiashan Farmers Market, which will be held every two weeks starting from August 27.

Heaton-Renshaw says she's a country girl at heart and soon has to retreat into the fields to live on a little farm somewhere in England.

"I love and hate this city, much as I love and hate all cities," she says.

For now, though, Shanghai's a great place for her to experiment.

"It's an exciting, vibrant, huge city, yet I still feel like I live in a little town sometimes," she says of her complicated feelings for the city.

She enjoys both staying home and exploring the city on bicycle. "I spent my first month here riding around and those memories are still some of my best," she says.

Busy with her business here, she hasn't had a chance to travel much.

"I really hope to travel to other Chinese cities at the end of my time here and spend a couple of months on the road. I know the rest of China is very different from Shanghai."

Amelia Heaton-Renshaw

Nationality: UK

Age: 27

Profession: Homemade jam and chutney store owner



I hope to make something of my business here in Shanghai so I can retire to the countryside somewhere.

Favorite place: My home

Strangest sight: None

Worst experience:

I was in a pretty horrendous car crash and I found the lack of response from the people surrounding the car a little disconcerting and upsetting. I had to call my boss to ask him to call the ambulance (I didn't know the number at the time) and to speak to someone to tell them where we were.

Motto for life:

Take life as it comes. Appreciate what you have and always try to look at the positive in things. Recently I have not been following this and have become rather negative. I find the business of the city can often stress me out.

How to improve Shanghai:

More green spaces. More parks where you can lie down on the grass and enjoy a picnic.

Advice to newcomers:

Get a bike and explore this city as much as possible. I spent my first month riding around and around and those memories are still some of my best. I wish to have time like that again.

Homemade treats


Ms Jam - Amelia Heaton-Renshaw

Oh My Goodness Organic Cupcakery

OMG is on a mission to make delicious organic cupcakes.

Ms Cupcake - Jenna Suharto

Strictly Cookies

Strictly Cookies delivers fresh cookies right to your door.

Ms Cookie - Lexie Comstock

Spread the Bagel

An online delivery service offering a wide selection of traditional bagels, freshly baked to order.

Ms Bagel - Christine Asuncion


British-style sandwiches. Founders saw a gap in the market for a decent sandwich store where you can walk in and grab freshly made, wrapped, healthy sandwiches at a good price.

Founders: Colin Clark (British) and Pan Mao (Chinese)

All products can be found at the Pantry

Address: 90 Nanyang Rd near Xikang Rd (near Plaza 66)


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