Two weeks ago, one of Ireland’s leading proponents of artisan breads moved to a new and much larger bakery in Cork city, which he hopes will allow him to continue expanding.

Declan Ryan, owner of the Arbutus Breads bakery, has shifted from his previous premises in the smart Cork suburb of Montenotte to a brand new 230sq m (2,500 sq ft) unit on an industrial estate at Mayfield, about 10 minutes drive away. Arbutus Breads was originally set up in September 1999, after the upmarket Arbutus Lodge hotel in Montenotte, which Mr Ryan ran with his family, was sold. He recalls that it closed its doors on a Saturday and that, the following Monday morning, his new bakery was already up and running.

The original Arbutus Breads started life in a converted two-car garage on Mr Ryan’s own estate in Montenotte. At that time, it had one employee and deliveries were carried out in Mr Ryan’s jeep after baking. He was in a good position to establish a bakery. Having originally trained as a chef, he also studied at the L’École Française de Boulangerie d’Aurillac in 1996. And, during his time in the hotel, he was renowned for his innovative dishes.

Now, he is deeply involved with the artisan bread movement in Ireland and is a strong advocate for craft baking; he is on the academic council at the National Bakery School in Dublin and is also a member of the artisan forum at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Arbutus Breads makes a variety of products, including West Cork soda bread, rye and wholemeal, New York-style sourdough, white sourdough, spelt yeast breads and several continental styles. Speciality breads include a walnut and red wine variety. Mostly, traditional French flour is used, but the bakery also uses organic flour and traditional stone-ground Irish flours. Oatmeal comes from Macroom Mills in Co Cork, which roasts the husks before milling to give a unique flavour.

Growing customer base

In all, the bakery supplies about 25 regular customers, from deli owners and market-based retailers to catering outlets. But now the move to the new premises is complete, Mr Ryan hopes to broaden that customer base.

About 50% of sales go through delicatessen outlets in the Cork area, a further 25% through the restaurant trade and the remaining 25% through markets, which give a much wider geographical coverage. Arbutus now supplies weekly markets in places such as Kenmare, Co Kerry and Ennis, Co Clare. And one of the best fresh food markets in Ireland – the English Market in Cork city centre, which is the biggest single customer of the bakery – is almost on his doorstep. Arbutus also supplies the Neal’s Dairy Yard shops in London.

Good connections

So far, Arbutus has developed its customer base without having a website for the bakery and Mr Ryan has no immediate plans to change that situation. But having good connections with many food writers, in Ireland and internationally, does help. Demand for the products has grown so much, that the bakery now employs four full-time bakers and two full-time van delivery people. “There’s no longer any room for me in the bakery,” he quips.

The maximum daily output in the present bakery is 900 loaves a day. Of his breads, leading Irish food critics John and Sally McKenna have said that Mr Ryan bakes “probably the best bread in Ireland”. In their estimation, his top bread line is the wholemeal sourdough loaf, closely followed by a rye and caraway sourdough.

“We’ve set up the bakery to do artisan breads. We want it to be like a small French-style bakery rather than an industrial bakery,” says Mr Ryan. Virtually all the equipment that has gone into the Mayfield bakery is new and any equipment being transferred from the old bakery is almost new, as he has always had a policy of trading-up to new machinery whenever possible.

One of the ideas that Mr Ryan wants to try in the new bakery is baking boxes of mixed rolls for restaurants, so that they can get a selection of three, four or five different kinds of roll all in the same box. He also says he will probably start doing par-baked rolls for restaurants and hotels.

On May 10, the brand new E150 million terminal at Cork Airport is due to open and Arbutus Breads has won a contract to supply artisan breads there. The airport management has planned to build a shopping area in the new terminal that will recreate the atmosphere of Cork’s English Market. So Mr Ryan and his team have worked flat out to get the new bakery up and running in good time.