Jo Fairley is co-owner of Judges organic bakery and grocery in Hastings and co-founded Green & Black’s chocolate firm with hubby Craig Sams
Three years ago, Craig - who opened Britain’s first organic bakery on Portobello Road, in 1972 - bought our neighbourhood bakery on our own, less-than-Portobello-ish bustling street, in Hastings.
Like so many, it was sleepy. By 2pm, they’d run out of bread, and ticked over doing some trade in the café area, where regulars could (and did) nurse a 70p pot of tea and a scone for four undisturbed hours.
We only ran the café for two days, over which it took the princely sum of £200, barely covering staff costs.
It’s a pattern I see repeated up and down the country. Where bakeries do have an adjoining venture, it tends to be café-style. sleepy, and with prices so low, it’s hard to see how any money can be made out of an area that, quite often, gobbles up more than half the shop’s available floor space.
For high-street bakeries to survive - when so much bread is sold in supermarkets - I believe there has to be a new way.
Our solution was to close down the café, rip out the inglenook (with permission from the conservation officer), and transform the café area into a one-stop organic and local food shop while retaining the bakery counter, so as not to frighten the horses - or rather, the many devoted local customers.
We installed library-style adaptable shelving, scoured local antique shops for unusual bits of furniture with which to ’break up’ the space, and sourced produce from the wealth of farmers, cheesemakers and vintners who flourish on the rich soil of East Sussex.
Now the nicest comment from customers who step inside is, "Wow, now I don’t have to go to Sainsbury’s any more..." They can - and do - buy literally everything from a single carrot to a pork chop, right up to vintage organic Champagne. The fresh bread and cakes bring customers in far more often than a typical deli might expect - and when they’re there, customers buy a lump of excellent cheese, or a bottle of milk.
Many of them now shop with us three or even four times a day. We have one customer who says she’s got rid of her fridge because she doesn’t need it any more. Our clientele is cutting out food miles, by choosing to shop on their doorsteps rather than driving to the supermarket - and as a result, the local economy is thriving.
The net result is that we have boosted turnover in our tiny 450sq ft store from £220,000 a year to £800,000. We even have franchisees interested in replicating the concept, having seen that we’ve done the groundwork to source the very best products anyone’s taste buds could wish to encounter.
So for high-street bakeries, there is a future - but it may well lie beyond the ubiquitous scone and a pot of tea!