During its 200-plus years, Luke Evans Bakery has seen some turbulent times. Here, current MD David Yates explains how it has survived through the generations
Little is known about the early history of Luke Evans Bakery in Derbyshire. Established in 1804, it pre-dates local records, so its story has relied on being passed down through seven generations.
Despite the name, it was founded by Henry Evans and named after his brother Luke, who was killed in an accident. Henry’s son, who would later take on the bakery, was also named Luke in tribute. For Henry, bakery offered a different path to the one his father had taken. “Henry’s father was a vicar,” explains current MD David Yates, who runs the company alongside his wife, operations director Helen Yates. “Henry Evans didn’t want to take the cloth, so moved out to Riddings, which was a bit of an outpost in those days, and the bakery has been here ever since – on the same site.”
Over the years Luke Evans expanded and evolved, moving away from horse and cart to the fleet of six delivery vehicles and 50 staff it has today. But keeping a business alive for 214 years hasn’t been easy. Joe Evans, who managed the business during World War Two, faced particular hardship. “He lost all of his staff during the war and was making all his products on rations, even buying sugar on the black market to be able to keep producing,” says Yates.
Sourcing got easier after the war, but in the 1970s production took a tumble as the Luke Evans factory was struck by fires at both ends of the decade.
“It decimated the business,” Yates explains. “We continued to supply, manufacturing what we could, and getting products from other bakers to keep our customers happy until we turned the bakery around.”
Originally a farmer, Yates joined in 1988 after marrying the owner’s daughter Victoria Evans. He was only due to help for a few months but, three decades later, he’s still there, protecting the heritage of the bakery that his daughters may one day continue into the next generation. He’s not alone – one baker just celebrated his 55th anniversary with the company and various employees have served for more than 25 years.
Although the bakery does sell direct to consumers, the business is predominantly wholesale, serving customers such as National Trust sites in the area, Chatsworth Farm Shop, Derbyshire County Council and many other retailers. Luke Evans’ bread recently impressed judges at the British Baker-run Britain’s Best Loaf contest, winning the Wholegrain category with its Small Country Grain loaf.
Remaining true to the core principles of customer service and quality products are a big part of why the business has thrived for so long, believes Yates.
Luke Evans Bakery timeline
1804: Henry Evans established the business in Riddings, naming it as a tribute to his brother.
1936: Joe Evans takes over the firm.
1979: Following a fire, the two sites merge into one.
1988: David Yates joins after marrying Victoria Evans.
2003: Mike and Angela Evans retire, leaving it under the stewardship of David Yates.
2004: The bakery celebrates its bicentenary.
2016: Investment of £125,000 in new equipment allows production of up to 9,000 rolls an hour.
2018: Its Small Country Grain Loaf is awarded the best Wholegrain at Britain’s Best Loaf competition.