Rolling in the dough
Hand making bread, pastries and cakes every day with patience, skill and the best ingredients, The Bread Factory focuses on innovation and quality to ensure its reputation continues to rise
Established by Gail Stephens in 1993, The Bread Factory was created with the goal of baking to traditional methods using responsibly sourced ingredients and time to let the natural flavours of the bread develop. By using a process and production that was, and continues to be, light-years away from industrialised bakeries, the company hand makes bread with patience, skill and the best possible ingredients. “Originally focused on creating sourdoughs for restaurants and hotels, Gail found a gap in the market in the UK for quality breads. Since then, the business has grown substantially, with successes and expansion in both the retail and wholesale market. However, The Bread Factory is at its core a wholesale business, with bread, pastries and cakes produced and delivered to our thousands of customers around London and the UK on a daily basis,” begins Tristan Kaye, Trading Director at The Bread Factory.
Following a few years of operation, Gail met Ran Avidan and Tom Molnar, two men with their own bakery dreams; impressed by the breads they tried from Gail’s previous opening, the legendary Baker & Spice, the three began working together with a goal of baking simple and beautiful products. Having soon caught the attention of leading London-based Michelin star chefs and top retailers, the company gained a strong following and customer base. “One thing that amazes me about this business is just how diverse our customers are; we supply everyone from a small independent café that will take a few handfuls of pastries, a few loaves of bread and a couple of cakes, to restaurants and even contract catering companies at big office buildings. A lot of the restaurants and hotels we serve are rated five star and we are also immensely proud of our work with Michelin-starred chefs in creating incredible bespoke sourdoughs. We also have our Gail’s Artisan Bakery, our retail business, which has 36 sites across central and outer London, where customers can buy many other specialty breads, pastries or cakes.”
Since its inception, the ethos behind the company’s success has been maintained, with many of the original breads still being made today from the very same sourdough starters. Discussing the use of sourdough, Tristan comments: “Sourdough is our heritage and we have a passionate guy, Remek Sanetra, who is passionate about sourdough and tends to these starter cultures like they’re his babies. Sourdough begins with wild yeast, which lives in the general atmosphere and is used to make wine and bread. Today cultured yeast has been brought into food production, but historically it was wild yeast. You take the flour and water and let it ferment into a consistency that could be a firm dough or like thick mud, depending on the type of culture. This is a living breathing organism that gets introduced into every batch of bread, along with more flour, water, salt and if we are looking for a certain flavour, any other flavourful ingredients our recipes call for. The yeast in the culture begins to grow through the dough, which is where you get yeast feeding off sugars; this in turn gives off carbon dioxide, which causes the pockets in the sourdough bread.
“The benefits of sourdough include that fact that it is much healthier for you, the substances in wheat are broken down, it ferments over a longer period of time and thus provides you with a great flavour as well as bread that lasts longer. Because this is our heritage we have a number of different starter cultures, some of which are now many, many years old. These cultures get fed every day and continue to grow; we have starter cultures that are based on yogurt and flour, some that are based on apples and we even have one that is based on orange juice – these are in effect our intellectual property and can’t be replicated. To bake these breads we use Tagliavini ovens, which are big deck ovens that have a stone base; these ovens give an intense heat from the stone that seeps into the base of the bread and rises up. This results in a bread that has a beautiful, glossy, thick and crunchy crust that is the hallmark of really great bread.”
Indeed, the traditional approach has held firm at The Bread Factory, with many favourite recipes, like-minded suppliers, the original team and soulful, delicious and healthy bread,pastries and cakes continuing to be at the heart of operations. “Within the pastry segment of the business we have a dedicated production area that produces pastries on a daily basis; we use French flour and butter for our pastries and everything is done by hand so every croissant, for example, is never the same. This is part of our philosophy as an artisan bakery, we believe in people using their hands so through human touch we deliver products that have character and a life of their own.Meanwhile, for our cake segment, we make anything from tiny little chocolate biscuits that go great with a cup of coffee, to beautiful multi-tiered cakes for high-end restaurants and cafés. The cake area of the business is perhaps the most diverse in terms of product offering, and for this we again use a lot of French butter and the best quality chocolate, while using all fresh and natural ingredients,” says Tristan.
However, as is expected from an innovative producer, the company has also changed significantly by focusing on innovative developments for some of the best chefs in London and the UK; this way of working ensures the benchmark for baking gets higher and The Bread Factory’s expansive menu continues to grow. “The main market trend that we are seeing is an increased, genuine desire from people to eat better quality bread, with demand for sourdough rising significantly. Another trend we are seeing is a growing demand for free from products, whether that is gluten free, free from dairy or free from refined sugar, which is caused by either a medical need or lifestyle choice. We have also noticed that people want nice things and to treat themselves to a product that is smaller and better quality, with no artificial colours or flavours,” says Tristan. “To respond to these trends, we are investing even more significantly in our product development function – a team of people who are charged with the responsibility of creating beautiful products aligned with our ethos, and designed to fulfil areas of need in the market. We also have a gluten free bakery where we bake breads and have seen tremendous growth there; we are currently also doing some sweet gluten free items and have recently expanded with a delicious salted caramel brownie. The highest recognition we can get for our gluten free products is when people don’t believe that it is gluten free when they eat them.”
He continues: “Another recently developed product is the creation of sliced sourdough in a frame, so the bread is consistent across the entire length of the loaf with many smaller holes throughout. Although the holes are a hallmark of sourdough and it looks wonderful, the holes are not necessarily useful if you are making a sandwich and your ingredients fall through the middle. We are getting a great response from this bread as it looks great, tastes amazing and is perfect for sandwiches or toasting.”
This dedication to making exceptional products has not gone unnoticed in the industry, with the company achieving 16 gold stars in the Great Taste Awards 2016 alone, an additional three from the 13 it won in 2015. “Awards provide recognition, not so much for us as a business, but for our bakers who can see just how great their products are. When you are in a bakery, baking day-in-day-out, it is easy to become detached from the consumer, so we find ways to take our teams to meet customers and for customers, particularly chefs, to come into our facility and meet our staff. Awards are another way we illustrate to our people just how much the rest of the market loves our products; for example, we won the Golden Fork award for best product in the south east with our seeded cracker, so this was not only a three star product but also listed in The Times Top 50 products. This was a proud moment for us, and particularly for the seven people who work on that product on a daily basis; it is great for those bakers to see how much a distinguished panel of judges loved their product,” highlights Tristan.
Baking 365 days a year, the company produces between 80,000 to 140,000 items a night at an industrial estate in north west London. Originally starting in one unit, The Bread Factory has expanded in line with its on-going trend of success and recently acquired an additional three units in the first quarter of 2017. With an extra 24,000 square feet of space, the company is now undergoing finalisation plans for this new space, with equipment due to be installed shortly. “This is a major development in the business that not only demonstrates how optimistic we are, not only for the future of The Bread Factory, but also for the future of great quality bread, cakes and pastries in the UK market,” shares Tristan.
Moving forward, The Bread Factory is keen to focus on developing new and exciting products while also improving its existing product range by increasing quality while also seeking to deliver the best possible service to customers. “We want customers to be happy with the products they receive, to get their deliveries on time and to have a complete order with nothing missing; it is our goal to get these levels as close to zero as possible. Looking further ahead, we want to provide more people with access to better quality bread and to do that we need to keep growing. We can’t be complacent, and instead need to deliver better products all of the time,” Tristan concludes.