Yes, chef!

19 January, 2007
Artisan bakers Barton & White have a keen insight into their market, currently dominated by trade to top hotels and restaurants, finds Carol Griffiths
Page 26 
Over-worked, obsessed by details and prone to fits of temper, chefs have a fearsome reputation thanks to the on-screen antics of Gordon Ramsay. So you might think selling bread to top restaurants is a nerve-wracking affair for a baker. Turn up with something that doesn't match the head chef's lofty expectations and there's a good chance you'll be sent away with a flea in your ear or at least a stream of invective.
Thankfully this is not something artisan bakers and patissiers Daniel Golob and Craig Barton have ever gone through. The owners of Barton & White bakery in north-west Leicestershire have actually found the hospitality trade so easy to sell to that it makes up around 25% of their business."We've never had any problems selling our products. We've never done any marketing - it's all been built up through word of mouth," says Golob. "We turn up with some samples, explain how we make our products and the ingredients we use, and generally the chef says 'yes'."One of the reasons they say 'yes' so quickly is that there is a dearth of bakers with the required range and quality in the region, says Golob. "I don't know of a single competitor to us in the area. It was something that came up during research before setting up the business; there was a real need for a good quality, artisan bakery in the Midlands. One of the biggest problems with the bread industry in this area is that it seems to be very much brown or white bread in numerous sizes, which seems to me like cheating the customer."Continental flavour"We offer a range of products people can usually only buy abroad or at Continental markets. We have a base of 50 or 60 speciality and artisan bread products. While we do produce a brown and white tin loaf, these are the items we sell the least of."The company first began in 2004 as a catering business, making pâté, terrines and speciality breads. Local restaurants and fine food retailers began placing regular orders and the business snowballed from there. The official launch date of Barton & White was September of that year and was helped by a start-up loan from the Thomas White Charity.Today, the company makes breads such as focaccia, ciabatta, sourdough, baguettes, pain de campagne and rye, which are all handmade using long fermentation times, natural leavens and absolutely no improvers or artificial additives. Patisserie and cakes, made by Craig, including chocolate eclairs, Irish coffee cream roulade, chocolate and Grand Marnier torte and a range of cheesecakes, are also an important part of the business, which is housed on the second floor of a new 4,000sq ft unit.On-trade experienceBarton & White's success is, in no small measure, due to the founders' backgrounds. Both Barton and Golob have long experience working as chefs and patissiers in top hotels and restaurants here and in France, so they recognise exactly what chefs want from their suppliers."If a client has a specific requirement or idea they can just pick up the phone and talk to us. We are more than happy to oblige and this is how we get a lot of our repeat business," says Golob. "I know, from a chef's point of view, that if you can have something made to your needs, it makes the job so much easier." Trialling new products is only conducted on a limited basis to avoid unnecessary waste. Goods are produced to order, usually in quantities of up to a dozen, and sent to customers for feedback. "It is a balancing act for us, as our clients have to stick their neck out," says Golob. "But we try to help them along the way as much as possible."The pair are exploring various avenues to develop the business. While they already supply delicatessens and golf clubs, as well as restaurants and wholesalers, they are fighting shy of any full-blown launch into the retail sector as yet - either via their own outlets or via supply to major supermarkets. Instead, they have investigated the idea of mail order, as products such as sourdoughs, which have a longer shelf-life, could potentially be sold all over the world."We're also looking into corporate packaging, so that products can be sold directly to the retail market," says Golob. "We're open to a lot of ideas, but it has to make financial sense pretty quickly because, as a young company, it's important we make money. We want to concentrate on what we are doing at the moment and grow the company from within," he adds. "Then we can look at it again in a year from now and review the situation."Juggling actAt the moment, time is already at a premium. Although supported by three full-time staff and part-time help when required, the pair face a "real juggling act" between the demands of production and the need to go out into the field to represent the firm and source new customers. "Because our products are unique and we use techniques that bakers outside London would not use, that makes Craig and I the best people to discuss our products," says Golob. "Give it a year or so and we hope to step away from production and do the representing work ourselves."Ultimately that will mean recruiting new employees to carry on their high standards and they are looking to France, rather than London, as a potential source. "We have one or two contacts in France and hope to entice them over here," says Golob. "There are some 35,000 bakeries in France. If we intend to employ skilled bakers to make specialised bread, then a British baker may not always be the right person for the job."To ensure he stays close to market trends in France, Golob is planning to work back there for a couple of months. "There are a lot of techniques used there that aren't employed here. Some bakeries in Paris don't use any commercial yeast at all, which I find quite exciting. The techniques are slower, maturing the dough to get the best flavour, and some are still using wood-fired ovens."While Golob says he and Barton have been somewhat surprised at the firm's growth, he puts it down to their ambition and enjoyment of what they do. "We have a three- to five-year plan, during which we would like to develop two separate sides to the company, but retain the same Barton & White ethos. We still want to supply retailers such as delicatessens with our breads and handmade products but also go down the wholesale route. It's quite hard to see which will be the way it develops. But we love what we do and feel we are on the verge of something big."



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