When lockdown happened I was furloughed. To stop feeling bored I started making bread. First for me and my wife Claire, then my neighbours and friends and then a local deli. Before long, word spread and the owner of a local empty shop asked me if I would set up a community bakery!
I wanted to share what I learnt running this community bakery. I hope you enjoy reading my ‘lockdown lessons’.
1 – Dreams can come true in the most unexpected way
I have always dreamt of setting up my own bakery with my wife Claire. The furlough gave me the time to do it. And it proves that adversity gives us the opportunity to find out what we are capable of. It only took seven days from the initial approach to opening day!
2 – Recruit for attitude not skill
It’s much easier to work when you choose the right people. I didn’t need qualified chefs. I employed two young women, Autumn and Alisha. They had both recently lost their jobs and were keen as mustard to learn to bake. To use a bakery term, they are ‘sponges’, keen to learn and soak up knowledge. I have always prided myself on my training skills but I have realised that they could be improved. By investing a bit more time at the beginning training Autumn and Alisha their loaves were so much better. And I have learnt how important it is to give people a chance to prove themselves.
3 – Keep it simple
No matter how many sausage rolls we make – we always sell out! Food doesn’t need to be schmanzy pantsy. Don’t overcomplicate or get over-wordy and cheffy with descriptions. All customers want is their favourite bakes made with good quality ingredients. Customers know that everything we sell we make ourselves, we don’t buy anything in.
4 – It takes a village…
You can’t do everything yourself. The Baughurst community got behind us – from the local paper to social media. My work chef colleagues Luis, Phil, Kev and David have been stalwarts helping me get the baking done. Customer comments on Facebook have been amazing. Other small local businesses have also been championing us. My wife Claire has been incredible. She set up the till system, managed H&S, allergens, payroll and orders. My newly-trained bakers Autumn and Alisha have worked their socks off and I wouldn’t have achieved anything without them.
5 – It helps if you have the right equipment
Start with the right equipment- using the wrong equipment cost me an extra 3-4 hours a day. Making batches of sourdough with only one mixer was very challenging and only one oven meant I had to bake in my home oven too. Thank you to Andrew Dargue who let me have some of his surplus equipment very cheaply.
6 – Waste not want not
I thought I was good at minimising waste but I am even better now! We have a ‘no waste’ ethos, all our cake trimmings are sold and biscuit corners go in to our delicious rocky road. Using the till system I know exactly how many items we sell each day. I can spot buying patterns and cater to these which also stops waste.
7 – Keep an eye on the dough…
With my new status as a the Bill Gates of the bakery world I was expecting to be buying a new watch every week! I now realise this isn’t going to happen and I have a better appreciation of operating costs. I was unaware how much insurance, electricity and rent costs. All the little costs (the things you don’t sell but you need) mount up. I took them all for granted. In the past a spill on the floor means grab a large handful of blue roll to absorb it. But now I know how much it costs and how much of my profit it erodes! And burning a batch of brownies means we will make no profit that day!
8 – Customer service – the essential ingredient
We have an open plan shop so we speak to every customer. We always welcome everyone with a “hello” and say “thank you for coming” when they leave. The team are excellent at building rapport with our customers which makes them natural ‘up-sellers’.
9 – Don’t judge a loaf by its wrapper
Contrary to popular misconceptions young people are not all lazy! Autumn and Alisha can sometimes work quicker than me, they are first in and last to leave. A mountain of washing-up doesn’t phase them. They never want to take any extra wages even if the till has had an especially good day.
10 – It’s nice to have ‘rock-star’ status once in your life!
I have enjoyed having ‘rock-star’ status from the bakery halo. I over-took someone on a local road recently and they came in and told me they recognised me from the local paper and community social media! A big thank you to the ladies in Tesco who have been hand-picking my shopping. And the man in the office above the bakery who has given me his personal parking space. I promise it won’t go to my head!
I hope you find my story up-lifting. I am determined to show that even though times are difficult for our industry at the moment there are still opportunities and reasons to be hopeful.