There’s nothing better than the smell of freshly made bread wafting through the air.
At Budweiser Budvar Top 50 Gastropubs finalist pub The Anchor, in Walberswick, co-owner Sophie Dorber bakes the pub’s bread in house using two high end Rational combination ovens.
“We do a white and a brown,” says Dorber. “People like our bread enough to enjoy whatever we produce, so rather than producing a range I make one or two different types every day and sell them at the bar. It’s a great USP and we don’t hold lots of stock.”
Dorber claims the ability to produce your own bread is priceless when faced with unpredictable lunchtime rushes. “I can always make some within three hours. If we get hit by a very busy lunch I can still have fresh bread by the evening for dinner – if you’re not making it yourself you can easily run out.”
On top of this, in-house baking can be a good way to improve an outlet’s sustainability credentials. At the Anchor, all unsold bread has a secondary use. “We use it for fishcakes, garlic bread, brown bread ice cream and countless other things,” says Dorber. “I have a zero waste policy.”
And at the end of the day, baking in-house means complete control over the detail and quality of produce. “Quality and the integrity of doing exactly what we say we do is our main concern,” Dorber concludes.
Oakman Inns site the Beech House, in St Albans, produces a wide range of bread in-house as well as dough for the pub’s pizza offer. General manager Jack Ashmore says that when running an in-house bakery, having skilled, trusted and happy staff is key.
“We bake everything here,” he says. “In terms of motivation we have some very talented people here and we wanted to nurture that talent. If people have the skill to do something then I prefer not to source from outside – we have a pizzaiolo and a baker.”
“The biggest benefit of the baking operation is just the effect it has on the morale of the team, making this product in house and feeling like a valued part of the kitchen.”
The Beech House sources the majority of its flour from a local mill, giving the kitchen team the chance to playing around with combinations, tastes and textures as they bake.
“[The team] cook some great tasting loaves,” says Ashmore, adding that the best-selling bread offering is actually the bread and oils starter sold in the Beech House’s restaurant.
“It’s a great little appetizer to get people started whilst they’re reading the menu,” he says.
The Crown & Garter, in Inkpen, Berkshire was acquired by Honesty Group in 2014 and re-opened with its own in house bakery and coffee shop, producing pastries, cakes, cookies, artisan bread and sandwiches.
“It’s a small but speciality setup,” says Tiago Figueredo, manager of the Crown & Garter. “My bestseller is a white bloomer – we also do a wholegrain and a sourdough – and demand for the sourdough is also very high.”
The Crown & Garter’s bakery also produces baguettes, ciabattas and pain au champagne. Figueredo says one of the main benefits of having an in-house bakery is the recognition the products receive.
“We make our bread using three or four basic ingredients rather than the 21 or so you’ll find in a supermarket loaf and the taste is completely different,” he says. “Having a bakery adds value to any meal or any snack – people recognise the quality when they come in for a drink or to eat.
But he says whilst the majority of ingredients used in the bakery are cheap, the initial investment was not. “It’s been a huge investment. In the bread business there are two very important points.
“Firstly, if you are not selling your leftovers it can cost you a lot of money. Bread is a daily product – if I have ten ciabattas left at the end of the day then I can lose 20 pounds. Secondly yes, bread has good margins as long as you don’t move it – once you start supplying to other people you have to be extremely careful.”
Figueredo says consistency and a perfectionist attitude is fundamental. “Make sure the bread is perfect, then repeat,” he says. “The equipment is extremely important: the oven, the temperature, control of the whole process. And make sure you respect nature because [making bread] is a natural process.”
But for some operators baking their own bread simply isn’t a viable option. Whether it’s down to not having enough space in the kitchen or prep time, sometimes you’ve got to order in.
And investing smartly – whether it’s in a local bakery or a commercial supplier - can help licensees bring in profits without touching a bag of flour.
Lucy Townsend, director and owner of the Greyhound on the Test, in Hampshire, says going into business with independent bakery the Hoxton Bakehouse has massively benefitted her operation.
“It started when I met these two incredible, enthusiastic bakers from London,” she says. “We put in a 50% investment to help them grow and develop their business.
“I think people are willing to pay a good amount of money for good bread – with the help of farmers markets and awareness of local produce people are eating better and want to know what’s in their food.”
“Having a relationship like this brings a different element to the business – it allows us to do lots of cross selling,” she says. “Our chefs spend a day a week working with the bakery and it also gives the front of house another thing to be passionate about and interact with customers about.”
Townsend and her team are currently looking to open a retail space and expand their operations with the launch of a baking school within the next six months. She says the key to driving profits with bakery products is not to be overambitious with the scope of the range.
“We’ve been reluctant to make a big product line,” she says. “You have to build it up slowly – we sell to lots of establishments including Rick Stein’s and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s restaurants and it would be very easy to make too many products.
“Just focus on keeping overheads down and slowly build on what you’re good at. We produce around 600 loaves a day at the moment so we’ve got a very good margin.”
Sourdough is a top seller at the Greyhound on the Test, which Townsend attributes to a growing health-consciousness amongst consumers. Gluten free breads, artisan loaves, pastries, brownies and macaroons also sell particularly well.
Whether you order from a local bakery or a more traditional supplier, keeping on top of trends can help you grow profit margins by making sure your offer doesn’t go stale.
French bakery supplier Coup de Pates and sister food-to-go outlet Delice de France recently merged and rebranded under the Coup de Pates name, with the aim of providing more UK chefs with access to an extensive range of premium products.
“Customers are now more knowledgeable and will be quick to vote with their feet if they feel the offering is sub-par,” says Neville Moon, global head of innovation at Coup de Pates.
“Visiting farmers markets, festivals and street food outlets can really open your eyes – there you will find an abundance of operators that may focus on only one or two items but do them incredible well, causing diners to travel far and wide for the best.”
Sourdough has seen an impressive surge in customer interest thanks to its health credentials and artisan look. The bread, which uses a fermented dough starter to rise and enhance flavour, contains little to no additives and is marginally cheaper to make than many other loaves.
Operators wanting to take advantage of the trend could consider implementing sliced sourdough toast into breakfast dishes and starters such as bread and oils or smoked salmon.
Wastage can also be utilised in other dishes. For instance, stale sourdough crumb mixed with salt and cracked peppercorns makes an excellent coating for fishcakes and similar morsels.
Burgers are a pub staple and whilst an operator’s choice of bun may seem like an afterthought, knowledge of trends can be applied to make your burgers more attractive to customers seeking a premium dining experience.
“When it comes to burgers, [foodservice trend analysts] Horizons highlights an 85% increase in the use of brioche since 2013,” says Moon, adding that operators could also consider using less traditional breads such as rye, submarine rolls, flatbreads, pretzel rolls, slider buns and premium brioche buns to add a more premium price tag to their burgers.
Aryzta Food Solutions’ pretzel burger bun “Bun Appetite” recently received a gold award in the Casual Dining Show’s 2015 Innovation Challenge. The product is supplied frozen after being made using traditional pretzel baking methods.
Hybrid baking was thrust into the public eye last year with the rise of the Cronut, a decadent cross between a croissant and a doughnut. It became an overnight sensation, with supermodel Heidi Klum going so far as to reserve a seat on a plane for a box of cronuts just so her family could try them.
“A trend for melding different, sometimes opposing styles to create brand new creations took flight last year,” says Moon. “This is a ‘people’s trend’ that shows no sign of abating.
“All manner of interestingly named delicacies including the townie (a tartlet crossed with a brownie); the brookie (a blend of brownies and cookies) and the duffin (a muffin-doughnut fusion) are now available and while some may baulk at the trend, it’s important to remember that at its heart is a real sense of fun.”
London bakery Foxcroft & Ginger recently launched its own creation, the cruffin, which (if you hadn’t worked out the incredibly obvious already) is cross between a croissant and a muffin, on Friday 6 March.
What’s certain then is that bread can’t be neglected: it’s an incredibly versatile food that can be personalised to really make dishes and menus stand out, giving them a sense of identity and provenance. The future’s here and it’s crusty.