Great Northern Bakehouse managing director Ian Cross on transforming Olivia’s Artisan Bakery into a growing wholesale business.

Seven months ago, staff at Olivia’s Artisan Bakery were in fear for their jobs. Today, they are working for thriving business the Great Northern Bakehouse.

Olivia’s 13 staff were set to be laid off after the business – a combination of retail sites and a bakery - fell into financial difficulty. However, a group of investors stepped in to buy the assets and re-employed all staff, creating new business the Great Northern Bakehouse, based in Darlington, County Durham.

One of the investors, Charles May, was described by Great Northern Bakehouse managing director Ian Cross as a “white knight” with a track record of saving companies.

“He belongs to a little group of like-minded investors based in the north east who run their eyes over businesses and look for an opportunity,” Cross told British Baker. “If they feel it’s appropriate, then they approach them.”

When he joined the new business, Cross said he wanted to reassure staff about the future through actions rather than words.

“When you come in as a new organisation, you have to demonstrate through actually spending money,” he explained. “Not only taking cash out of the business when it becomes available, but being prepared to put it back in again to fund new equipment and machinery and new plants.”

“You need to make sure the equipment is serviced correctly and that a long-term viable business has everything in place.”

Cross and operations manager Jen Stockdale have been described by some of the workforce as pivotal figures in keeping the business afloat.

“It was simple,” added Cross. “We tried to identify where the strengths and weaknesses of the business were, and how we could improve the overall robustness.

“I think purchasing, distribution, manufacturing and the people were the main drivers behind the resurrection.”

While Olivia’s had a combination of retail outlets and wholesale bakery, Cross said the new company planned to focus on wholesale.

“The plans are very clear at the moment,” he added. “We want to revolve ourselves around manufacturing, production and being creative in terms of our menu and communicating effectively with our customers.”

The Great Northern Bakehouse product range includes gluten-free lines, and the business recently announced it would be supplying gluten-free Battenburgs to 73 stores run by cancer charity Marie Curie.

“Our manufacturing process is clear and well defined, to a point where we can produce efficiently and effectively,” said Cross.

Since the start of the year, the company has increased its workforce from 13 to 19 and is supplying baked goods to Michelin-starred restaurants.

“The bakers are a really strong bunch of people and are passionate about what they produce,” Cross said. “To have the stress of redundancy and liquidation hanging over them was very destructive and concerning for them.

“It is a tremendous weight off their shoulders and gives them a chance to concentrate on what they are good at, which is producing high-quality bread.”