Roly’s Bistro is a modern rarity: a restaurant that bakes its own bread and confectionery, rather than relying on mixes or pre-baked products. Now it has done something even more rare: it has set up a bakery shop and café to sell the products that were previously the reserve of the restaurant. It is even thinking of franchising the concept - or at least extending it to other outlets.
The bakery and café has been set up in an area on the ground floor of Roly’s, which opened in 1992 in a prime main road position in Ballsbridge, south Dublin. Even though it has been open for less than 20 years, it is firmly established as one of the city’s top lunch and dinner spots, with a 20,000-copies-selling recipe book under its belt and a second edition planned.
A decade ago, Roly’s, owned by John and Angela O’ Sullivan and a consortium of shareholders, including chef de cuisine Paul Cartwright, opened the bakery that is now moving out from the shadows into the front-of-house.
Cartwright admits the off-putting overheads of the new bakery shop and café operation were considerable, not least the wages of the 14 people required to keep the whole show going - a reason why most restaurants opt for the easy option and buy in bread. Head baker, David Walsh, who joined a growing band of chefs converting to bakers, having undergone an advanced pastry course at Tallaght Institute of Technology in Dublin, insist the costs pay off through developing a local reputation as a restaurant with quality bakery products.
Roly’s has already had long experience of supplying bakery products to other trade customers, including some local hotels and, at one stage, Aer Lingus. But since part of the restaurant was converted into a bakery shop and café with 70 covers, two-thirds of bread production could ultimately be sold through the shop.
The bakery shop itself opens early, seven days a week, while the adjacent café is open six days a week. So far, say Cartwright and Walsh, the customer reaction to the café and bakery shop has been extremely positive - so much so that during the peak weekday time of 12 noon until 1.30pm, long queues of workers from many nearby offices line up. "We want to encourage customers to send in their lunchtime orders in advance, so that they can just drop in and collect them, rather than queue," adds Walsh.
They’re now exploring the possibility of rolling out the café bakery - possibly as a franchise, explains Dublin-born Cartwright, who trained in Ireland and France and worked in London, including at the Savoy Hotel. Cartwright says the restaurant itself has loads of personality and would be hard to replicate, but that the café and shop style and format would be easier to reproduce.
== Roly’s retail strategy ==
Making the most of its location in the heart of bustling Ballsbridge, Roly’s Café & Bakery opens from 7.30am daily, Monday to Friday, and 9am on Saturdays, offering a full breakfast menu. A varied lunch menu, freshly prepared sandwiches and wraps, and a range of coffees and drinks to eat in or take away will keep the Roly’s Café busy until 4.30pm. At the front of the café, the bakery area stays open until 7pm every day, including Sundays, offering cakes, breads, soups and pre-prepared meals to take home.
The interior of Roly’s Café & Bakery echoes the newly remodelled ground floor of Roly’s Bistro. Clean lines, marble floors and pale painted wood panelling create a calm and relaxing ambience. Roly’s Café & Bakery has its own entrance from the street, but the remainder of the interior of Roly’s Bistro is unchanged.
The restaurant has seating for about 220 diners and, on a really busy day, it can serve up to 1,000 meals a day. The bakery itself is small, around 60sq m, but it turns out an impressive product list. Walsh explains that it specialises in gluten-free bread, including banana and walnut, and also bakes a lot of yeast breads. "We do a couple of different brown breads, as well as about a dozen different speciality loaves, including spinach and raisin, tomato and fennel and Mediterranean breads". Small and large brown soda bread loaves retail at E2.35 and E2.75 (£1.80 and £2.20), alongside speciality breads including flutes, baguettes and ciabattas.
The confectionery side covers many classics, such as tarts, vanilla mille feuilles, puff and sweet pastries, right through to Viennese lines and larger cakes. And it’s likely that the bakery shop will expand into wedding cakes. One of the surprises that has emerged is the consumer demand for small cakes right through the week. A fruit scone sells for E2.50 (£2), while a raspberry tart is priced at E5.25 (£4.15).
This year, Roly’s will turn over about E8 million (£6.35m), employing around 110 people.
Diversifying into bakery out-sales has been an innovative step for this prime Irish restaurant - a trend-setting development that has certainly added substantially to the restaurant’s turnover. Queues of customers are a healthy sign that this new venture will work well for the future.
=== Restaurant-cum-bakeries: three of the best ===
== Ottolenghi: London N1 2TZ ==
Ottolenghi has been baking its own breads, cakes and Viennoiserie since the first restaurant was launched in 2002. Last year, it opened a site in Camden, London, to supply its four outlets with breads and pastries. "We have a kitchen on every site where we bake fresh every day - cakes, morning pastries, tarts, meringues and other patisserie lines," says Yotam Ottolenghi.
Specialities of the house include sourdough bread, white Italian rustic loaf, sour cherry and walnut stick and several types of focaccia. Best-sellers are lemon and mascarpone tartlet, hazelnut brownie, cornbread and giant raspberry meringues. "We prefer to make everything in-house so that we can maintain the highest of standards. We know precisely what we are selling and the processes are involved. This is what our customers have come to expect," he says.
== St John’s Bread and Wine: London E1 6LZ ==
Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver run their bakery in Spitalfields supplying their restaurant on the same site, as well as their other restaurant in Smithfield. Trevor Gulliver explains that they started baking their own breads and pastries five years ago. They used to sell also in a local farmers’ market, but don’t have enough capacity for that now. "Baking our own means we can maintain the very best in hand-crafted breads and patisserie, using the best ingredients and flour," says Gulliver. "The traditionally-milled flour we use is much better than industrial flour and our bread is definitely different."
== Lainston House Hotel: Winchester SO21 2LT ==
This luxury country house hotel has had a baking operation for the past 10 years. All breads are made as ferment and dough or from a leaven. A well-stocked herb garden provides ingredients for some loaves, such as rosemary and sultana or tomato and walnut. Breads produced include ciabattas, while as many as 1,000 biscuits a week are made, in addition to Danish pastries, croissants and pains au chocolat. Two bakers are employed and the man in charge, Adrian Chant, says: "In-house baking is preferred, as the product quality is better and the size is exactly what we want. Customers want things that are different to the regular products they can get elsewhere".
The bakery also supplies some local shops and nearby farmers’ markets.