The coffee shop culture is not a new concept in the Lake District National Park, but recently, the trend has been reaching out to those in search of more than just the afternoon treat of tea and scones. Forward-thinking bakery owners Phil and Ruth Eastwood, a husband-and-wife team, say they will soon be accommodating ’Stitch ’n Bitch nights’, in a newly opened café area next to their Oak Street Bakery in Windermere.
Named Coffee Bar 7, it opened just in time for Christmas. It serves Fairtrade coffee, freshly made cakes, soups and sandwiches, all prepared in its bakery next door. On windy, wet days, which occur far too frequently in the Lake District, the coffee shop is a welcome addition. Its walls are painted with vibrant colours, using red tiling and warm finishes, giving it a Moroccan and contemporary feel.
"It’s those little details and finishing touches that we’re proud of," says Ruth. "Everything is a labour of love, down to the individual fresh flowers presented on each table, to the choice of music buzzing away in the background."
The bakery next door has been open for seven years. "We wanted to do something a bit different," says Phil. "I didn’t want to just make a white, a brown and a Granary."
After being a production manager at Sayers in Liverpool for over nine years, Phil decided one day to take the plunge. He and Ruth headed for the Lake District National Park. "We wanted a complete change and a new life. It’s the attitude and atmosphere that we love; it’s so beautiful and laid back."
The move to open Bar 7 follows the controversial opening of Costa Coffee and Tesco Express in Bowness last year. The multi-million-pound Tesco and Costa developments have transformed the town and have met with both resentment and excitement. "Although the Tesco Express does have a bakery, it doesn’t seem to be affecting us at the moment," says Ruth. "But it’s causing real misery to some of the delis and sandwich bars in town."
According to the Eastwoods, the most regrettable part of their job is when, at least once a week, an ex-baker comes into the shop. "You can spot them a mile off," says Ruth. "They start poking their heads around the corner, looking at the ovens and asking lots of questions about the breads. It’s always the same story - a supermarket has opened up near their bakery, putting them out of business."
The Eastwoods’ strength lies in making a wide range of artisan breads, from chocolate bread to Polski chleb. The only other bakery nearby is a Greggs shop two doors down. "We do compete for business," says Ruth, "but at the end of the day, our offering is completely different to theirs. One of our sandwich offerings includes humus and salad in a Mediterranean bread. It’s delicious."
Oak Street Bakery makes about 30 different types of bread on a rotational basis. But on any day, Phil will make up to 18 different loaves. One of the most popular is a Mediterranean bread, made with olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, basil, cheese and olives. Commenting on the bread, Phil says: "We’ve recently been varying these ingredients and have produced a tinned bread with roast peppers and ham running through the middle of it. It’s like a meal in itself."
The bakery charges £2.95 for this particular loaf and it’s extremely popular, adds Phil. He explains that his customers are not at all fazed by paying high prices for quality artisan bread. "It’s actually our customers that tell us we should put our prices up," adds Ruth.
A lot of the bread at Oak Street Bakery is made from scratch, but Phil occasionally uses mixes from Ireks and Puratos. "Someone from Ireks showed us a spelt and honey bread, which was very popular," says Phil. "We need to use these mixes sometimes, as the keeping quality is greatly improved."
Half of the bakery business is wholesale. Its biggest customer, Lucy’s of Ambleside, comprises a deli, café/restaurant and a wine bar. The strange thing, explains Phil, is that Oak Street has never marketed for wholesale. "It has come through word of mouth. We’ve had to turn down work, as I already work too many hours. That’s what I was trying to get away from."
== finding staff ==
Oak Street has had problems recruiting staff. In Windermere, property is expensive and workers are usually only available during the holiday seasons. "We have employed chefs in the area who have baked a bit of bread, but when they come to work here, it’s a completely different profession," says Ruth. "The last chef lasted about 12 months and said he didn’t realise there would be that much volume."
Now, however, the bakery has a committed driver and three bakers helping Phil. The three new recruits are all Polish. "We are slowly going to let the lads introduce more Polish breads into the bakery," says Ruth. "The custo-mers love it." n