A HEALTH food specialist is hoping to defend her title for top service with her winning smile and excellent rapport with customers.

Ira Forina-Ridgwell, co-owner of Grape Tree, was the winner of the Service with a Smile prize at last year’s Reading Retail Awards, having made the finals in previous editions.

As well as having an artistic eye for arranging the products, Ira makes sure there is adequate room in the store to display her trophy from the 2017 contest.

Although Ira does not expect to win for a second year in a row, she continues to be humbled by the number of customers who nominate her.

She said: “I am very pleased. We do try hard with our customers.

“Even if we don’t win again it is still a massive compliment.

“It [winning last year] was a little scary.

"I did not expect it to be honest. There were a lot of other worthy finalists.

“It was an amazing experience and very rewarding to win.”

Reading Chronicle:

Ira is very familiar with the process of the Reading Retail Awards after reaching the finals of the Service with a Smile category in 2016 and going one better to win last year.

All of her certificates take pride of place in the shop and she was recently nominated by Marc Jason, a customer of many years, for her ‘exemplary’ attitude and ‘wonderful’ advice.

Ira added: “We are gaining more and more customers and we do all natural foods.

“I am probably the chatterbox of the shop. I tend to have a good memory for what the customers want and where they have been on holiday.

“I have always worked in retail ever since I was 16.

"Reading is a great place to do business and you will find that customers are very loyal.

“I would love to win again, but I don’t know if anyone has ever won two years in a row.

“It does not mean it is impossible though and it would be amazing.”

This year’s Service with a Smile Award is sponsored by Reading Buses.

Nominations for this year’s Reading Retail Awards are still open and entry forms are available from The Oracle and Broad Street Mall.