2nd July 2013
Ever thought about giving up the 9 to 5 and opening a bakery? Well take notes from father and daughter team Chris and Joanna Brennan who founded the Pump Street Bakery in November 2010 in the village of Orford on Suffolk's Heritage Coast. Their small, family-run bakery and café creates outstanding breads and pastries, and won the BBC Best Food Producer 2012. We caught up with manager and co-founder Joanna Brennan to discuss the challenges of starting and running an award-winning bakery.
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What were you doing before setting up the Pump Street Bakery?
I was a speech and language therapist working in South London and my father, Chris, was retired from a long career at IBM. It was a big change in occupation for both of us, but something we were both really committed to.
What compelled you to open a bakery?
Real bread and real food is what got the ball rolling. Chris started baking regularly at home because he wanted good, crusty, moist, flavourful bread made without chemicals or preservatives. It was a mission shared by the whole family, and we encouraged him to sell at the Orford Country Market. Within months he had a huge following, and we knew that we weren't the only ones that wanted good, real bread.
Has your father/daughter relationship been altered by going into business together? Who’s in charge now?
I think it would be unrealistic to say that it hasn't changed, but it's definitely not deteriorated. We have come to understand each other even more, and we split things in a way that works to each of our strengths. Neither of us is in charge – we work as a team with the rest of the bakery. On a day-to-day basis Chris runs the bakery and I run the shop and café, which keeps things clear.
A baker’s day is famously long; can you take us through the daily routine?
The bakery is in operation almost 24 hours a day. Andy arrives around midnight to start the bake for the following morning. He is joined by David around 4am to help with baking off, mixing dough and feeding the starters for the coming days. The girls, Max and Tori, bake pastries and prep for the next day from the early hours into the afternoon. I work in the shop from 9 am until 4 pm, and then we clean up until 5 pm. There are often meetings or events, as well as paperwork to catch up with in the evening. Then it all starts again at midnight...
What are the biggest challenges of running the bakery?
There are numerous challenges – one of them being that we are in a rural area where there aren't many trained bakers or pastry chefs. Fortunately we have been extremely lucky with our team, we couldn't ask for better. The biggest challenge is quality control. Even with an excellent team and strict recipes and methods things flop sometimes, for no discernible reason. Nothing goes in the bin, but it's hard not to sell things when so much time and effort has gone into them. However quality is our number one principle, and we wouldn't want anyone to buy something that wasn't 100%.
Tell us about your idea for dealing with the bakery’s surplus bread.
We always wanted to sell bread on the day it was baked only. But we couldn't stand the idea of bread going to waste. The idea of community has always been central to the bakery, so we looked for a community outlet for our surplus bread and pastries and decided on a local hostel. The closest one to us is in Ipswich, but luckily Andy drives by it on his way home every day, so he takes it there.
Which product do you find most satisfying to make (and sell)?
I think the sourdough is one of our most satisfying products because each one is so unique. We have a very set method for making ours which involves three days of preparation, and this is what gives it its characteristic flavour and texture. It's also a really appealing shape and has a distinctive pattern on the top which is leftover from the banneton (wicker baskets) it proves in.
Do you find yourself tempted to eat bread all day, or are you immune?
I am tempted to eat all of it all day, though not as much as I was at the beginning. I sample everything regularly but try not to eat the whole thing – just a bit here and there, or it would all add up! A lot of the breads are really healthy so I do eat them daily, especially the seeded rye and our whole-wheat ‘Richmond’ loaf.
Of all the products you sell, what's your personal favourite?
Oh goodness, this is a tough one. I really love the bear claws: croissant dough with almond frangipane inside. But I think my absolute favourite is the butter tart which reminds me of my childhood in Canada.
What’s next for the Pump Street Bakery?
We've had a really exciting past year, winning the BBC Award for Best Food Producer and opening at Snape Maltings as part of their Fresh Food Pantry. We’re also working on online bread sales, and we’ll be selling bread boxes online which will be delivered to your door within 24 hours of coming out of the oven. Another project is Pump Street Bakery's own Small Batch Chocolate – we've already started production of bean-to-bar chocolate from Madagascar and Venezuela. Apart from this, I think this year will involve more consolidation, focusing on our product range and introducing some new things gradually. We've never been looking for fast expansion; we want quality to come first so we are keeping that in the front of our minds.
In five words describe a day in the life of the Pump Street Bakery.
Dynamic, hands-on, social, early, late.
The Pump Street Bakery, 1 Pump Street, Orford, Suffolk IP12 2LZ
Tel: (01394) 459829
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