Tilley's Bakery shop in Southampton  2100x1400

Source: Tilley’s Bakery

Hampshire-based Tilley’s Bakery is just weeks away from closure if it can’t find a new buyer or replacements for two departing bakers.

Co-owner and baker Joanne Fitzgerald, who has been running the shop in Hythe near Southampton with her partner Wayne for the past six years, is planning to retire by May and spend more time with her grandkids. Meanwhile, the business’ other full-time baker is moving on to another job nearer his home at the end of March.

Tilley’s has been on the market since last September, with an asking price of £150,000 and a landlord willing to renew the lease. However, the owners say they have yet to find a suitable buyer.

Fitzgerald revealed that one previous candidate was offering full price but had finance denied at the last minute, while another was expressing keen interest but didn’t want to keep on the existing 14 full-time and part-time staff members nor maintain the same product range.

“I don’t think this would keep our customers happy, so I am very reluctant to go with him,” commented Fitzgerald. “Ideally our buyer would be a baker, but otherwise someone who is passionate about the business.

“Our staff are brilliant, they work exceptionally hard and have a great rapport with our customers, many of whom return daily,” Fitzgerald added. 

Inside of the Tilley's Bakery shop

Source: Tilley’s Bakery

Tilley’s operates a popular sandwich bar for lunchtime customers, filling the likes of torpedo rolls (which are the bestsellers), crusty and Harvester rolls, baps, and various bread slices. On the sweet side, they sell a range of cakes, pastries, muffins, brownies, biscuits, cookie pies, flapjacks, and doughnuts, including their ‘famous doughnut men’.

The premises feature a 578 sq ft ground floor including the storefront with large modern window display and inside counter, and air-conditioned main bakery in the rear. There’s also a 390 sq ft first floor with a small office, toilets and space to store ingredients. Bakery equipment included four large cassette ovens, retarder, prover, bun divider, dough mixers, Hobart mixers, doughnut fryer, and bread slicer.

Equipment in the main bakery production space at the rear of the shop. Tilley's Bakery

Source: Tilley’s Bakery

Business appears to be on an upwards trajectory with sales totalling £367k in the 2021/22 financial year and growing to £415k for FY22/23. “So far this year has been even busier so the turnover will only go up,” said Fitzgerald.

The site was originally a branch of Wilkins the Bakers, going back to the late 1960s. Following closure of the company, former employee Alan Richards bought out the lease in 1988 and rebranded it as Tilley’s, the nickname of his wife Heather. Richards retired almost three decades later, with the Fitzgeralds taking over and completing extensive refurbishments of the shop in May 2017.

During the pandemic, the bakery became a lifeline to local elderly and vulnerable people in the waterside area of Hythe, noted Fitzgerald, and still delivers to these community members once a week.

The threat of closure echoes recent stories of two other family-run craft bakery businesses, Robinsons Bakery in Manchester and Williams the Baker in Dorset. Both were subsequently able to find buyers for their shops, although Williams was forced to end part of its bakery production while continuing its Dorset Flapjacks brand.