First impressions count. When Barbakan Delicatessen’s BIA entry form for The Craft Business Award, sponsored by ADM Milling, landed on the judges’ desk, it was obvious they had made an effort. Stefan Najduch, proprietor, credits his wife, Joanna, who says: "I treated it as a project. I made up a portfolio with pictures and bullet points. Then I mentioned promotions, media coverage and aimed for a concise professional approach."

Joanna, who has a business and marketing degree, looks after purchase ledger, sales, wages and, of course, marketing. She also keeps customers up to date on Facebook and Twitter.

"When the ADM judges came to visit, they said: ’First we were blown away by your application and now your shop’," recalls Stefan, with modesty and pride. But he is quick to praise his 45 talented staff, who hand-mould all the breads and serve in the shop.

The business, in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, comprises a bakery with on-site shop, deli, and now a glass-fronted patio café/restaurant. But it is principally a bakery and the breads are legendary throughout Manchester. Many are used in Barbakan’s own takeaway range, so the queue, when BB arrived early on Thursday lunchtime, was already winding around the shop and beyond.

On a Saturday, 18 staff are needed to serve and, when Tesco Express opened opposite and threatened its sandwich trade, the Najduchs consulted with staff and fought back, deciding to open both earlier and later. The result? Takings went up.

Winner of Manchester’s Best Retailer Award three times, most recently in 2010, the shop has also featured on BBC TV’s Hairy Bikers. The two bikers, currently seen touring Europe, raving over German and Austrian breads such as Wurzelbrot, Altenburger and Volkenbrot, could find just the same breads at Barbakan.

Stefan, who like his wife had an Italian mother and Polish father, says: "In many ways the crux of my inspiration came in the late 1980s. Our children were young and we spent summer holidays driving down through Austria, Germany and the Rhineland all the time visiting bakers and confectioners to the kids’ cry of, ’Not another one, Dad’. But I was so impressed. The influence of what I saw the range of breads, professionalism of bakers and polite and smartly-dressed staff has influenced me ever since and we try to attain it."

Destination business

Barbakan is a destination craft bakery for office workers, residents, mums, dads, builders, and passers-by in fact all who want something that bit better, fuller, tastier and different. On a Friday morning, local mums and toddlers meet in the glass-enclosed front ’patio’. On Saturdays the shop becomes a breakfast hub, where hot servings of bratwurst, onions and roast potatoes combined in a roll are exceedingly popular.

Meantime, anyone wanting a lunchtime ciabatta roll, can choose from Italian or New York deli-style. Cold or hot fillings range from Milano salami, mozzarella cheese, tomato and salad to a hot beef sizzler or salmon and prawns.

But if you prefer a roast potato and rosemary pocket, then decide between roast beef with horseradish filling, brie with artichoke, tomato and olives, or goat’s cheese with walnuts and apple chutney. Or if traditional ham is to your taste you may like to know it is cured for two weeks, not two days. "We are very fussy about ingredients," says Stefan. "Everything in our takeaway range we make up from separately bought ingredients that you, yourself, could buy in a shop. There is nothing pre-prepared or ready-mixed."

The quality and originality are obvious, but to what else does Stefan attribute Barbakan’s success? "We never stand still. I believe in change you should always drive a business forward. We have been able to extend the premises and are about to do so again with a bigger bakery. From this one large shop we are about 70% retail and 30% wholesale, but are often asked to do more. A famous TV restaurant chef ran short of breads recently and the only ones he wanted were ours. I think there is more potential in wholesale."

But he adds: "It’s not enough in life to be a good baker. You must be good at business and management. Leadership is important and knowing how to delegate."

He recalls: "At age 25, I was junior partner in a business which made four or five lines of bread. I thought it was time I branched out on my own. My aim was always to have breads and snacks that everyone from all backgrounds could enjoy."

His mantra to staff is: "Ignore something and I’ll chew you up. Make a mistake, I’ll run with it." Staff are taught to say ’hello’ and acknowledge customers, even when extra busy, so they do not feel ignored.

Stefan is a great example to other BIA entrants, because he entered several times before winning. After doing so, he put a big banner at the front of the shop to publicise the win. He says: "It was an amazing feeling to win. It was the culmination of 28 years of developing and nurturing our business. ADM’s hospitality was great and we have been featured in the press, on radio and even TV."

Surely one question must be how does the business get its name? He laughs. "I thought you’d never ask. It’s the oldest-known gate in Krakow, Poland, a town and country that has seen many changes."

So, traditional, handcrafted, but standing at the forefront of change, Barbakan the gate and Barbakan the business certainly share something in common.

Barbakan range

All breads are made from scratch and hand-moulded. Standard bulk fermentation is six to seven hours, sourdoughs five days, rye starter 26 years. Typical bread prices: Polish white £1.64, Chorlton sourdough £2.92. Uses 5.5 tonnes of flour per week.
Range: About 40 breads, including Polish-style white, black and rye breads, Greek bread, German Altenburg bread, Danish bread, Italian crusty bread, six-grain bread, roast potato and rosemary bread, San Francisco sour and Chorlton sourdough, walnut bread. Plus doughnuts, Danish pastries, cakes and 12 varieties of Madeira cake.
Sandwiches include ciabattas with a range of fillings, rye breads topped with BLT or tuna and salad, beigel rolls with smoked salmon and cream cheese, or pastrami with gherkin and mustard mayo.

Tips for a top shop

l Consistency is our standard, keep to it
l Is it a garden shed or a bakery? Keep it clean
l Be professional it’s an attitude
l Everyone should look clean, smart and be a greeter
l Catch the judges’ eyes with your BIA presentation, make it stand out. Match it when they come to your shop

Judge’s comment

"Barbakan’s overall business success was built on the strength of artisan products. You don’t need to have 50 shops; it shows that one retail operation can really stand out from the crowd."
Peter Hayes, national sales manager, ADM Milling