This year’s winner of the British Baker Award for Special Achievement, John Slattery, is in good company, with names such as baker Charles Geary, cereals scientist Stan Cauvain and bakery tutor Jean Grieves.
John Slattery, too, stands in a class of his own. A renowned patissier, confectioner and son of highly popular Mancunian baker Bernard Slattery and wife Margaret, John was first handed a piece of pastry and a rolling pin at the age of seven. His father made wedding cakes at home to supplement his income and then bought his own bakery when John was 14. John immediately volunteered to work Saturdays and after school.
At age 16, he chose to attend Salford College of Technology and, during three years study, won the coveted Renshaw Cup, as well as the Top Student award.
Starting work in his father’s bakery he took over the business and confectionery side.
In 1988, his younger sister Ann, with her husband Steve, joined the business. John had married Marilyn so with three families to support and small businesses struggling against the popularity of supermarkets, he decided to set up his own company in Whitefields, Manchester. It was to be a patisserie with celebration cakes, handmade chocolates and fancies so he could practise the arts he truly loved.
Slattery’s soon became affectionately known as ’that wicked shop in Whitefields’ - and grew fast. In just two years, he was already employing eight people. It was time to move to bigger premises. This time the tables and chairs used for customers wanting to talk about their fantasy wedding cakes grew into a coffee shop with 12 seats, then 24, then 40, then 60!
John’s bespoke wedding cake creations were becoming local legends. He was also tutoring students, demonstrating at exhibitions and giving up time to judge competitions nationwide. He often combined his skills as a master chocolatier and celebration cake-maker to create the most incredible cakes. Sales went up and staff grew to 30, including daughters Kate and Laura, who had joined the business.
Eleven years ago John was invited to become a member of the prestigious British Confectioners’ Association - "a wonderful group where we share information".
He was already a member of the British Richemont Club, begun in Manchester 52 years ago, and affiliated to the Swiss-based International Richemont Club of top patissiers and chocolatiers worldwide. John was invited to become British president.
But business-wise, in 2003, Slattery’s needed to move again and, this time, it was a massive gamble. Acquiring a large, utterly derelict Victorian pub, John’s vision was to turn it into a working patisserie - and much more.
In 2004, it became a world-class patisserie, a renowned teaching school, a dining room, conference room and wedding venue. The Slattery School now attracts students - both amateur and professionals - from Great Britain and overseas.
Slattery Pattissier and Chocolatier has become a ’destination’. Customers call in for breakfast or business meetings, to choose the cake for the most important day of their lives, or that of a loved one. They may buy a copy of his book on chocolate cakes for weddings and celebrations, or just ingredients for their cakes - also available on the web.
Call in at Christmas, Valentine’s or Easter and it’s impossible to leave empty-handed. Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney and wife Colleen are among celebrities who chose Slattery’s for their elaborate wedding cake.
But he hasn’t just worked for his own business. Importantly, John has also mentored and helped other businesses. And he considers it a compliment when a staff member leaves, inspired to start up on their own. He pays tribute to wife Marilyn: "It’s a very good partnership; I couldn’t do it without her. She looks after things such as wages and banking; I only need to look after my work here."
Daughter Kate works in the bakery and the other daughter Laura makes the most of her business degree in the company. Meanwhile Ann, and Steve, provide the breads and savouries.
At the end of September 2008, John will co-host a three-day gala meeting of the International Richemont Club, when over 60 top confectioners worldwide will converge on Manchester’s top bakeries, including Slattery’s, to enjoy demonstrations.
As well as mentoring other businesses, demonstrating at exhibitions and judging competitions, John Slattery has set up a business that is truly inspirational.
Asked what gives him the most job satisfaction, he reflects: "I have implicit trust that I’m here on this earth doing what I’m meant to be doing." There are many who would agree.