Now We Are 6 (Months)

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On the 1st of December, Brick House turned 6 months old. It’s one of those peculiar instances where the time has gone by in the blink of an eye, and yet it seems like we’ve been up and running for ages.

It’s been a while since I put finger to keyboard about the business, so I thought now would be a good time to update you and remind myself of all the stuff that’s been going on behind the shutters of our little bakery since I did the last Brick House diary post a few months back.

So, since June it seems like it’s been getting busier week on week. We’ve been steadily picking up new business, and our existing clients are ordering more bread. We’re still supplying Franklin’s Farm Shop, Anderson & Co, The Rye and Cannon & Cannon, but we’ve also picked up some great new clients including Green & Blue, Bambuni, Aga’s Little Deli, Fleischmob, Salon, and more recently a couple of places in central London, La Fromagerie and Duck Soup. We also had a great summer supplying the bread for Frank’s bar in Peckham. We’re no longer at The Great Exhibition on a Saturday, and are doing the new Herne Hill market every Sunday instead, which has been fantastic because we’ve met so many lovely people, many of whom we now count as regulars. It’s really become one of the highlights of our week. Oh, and while we’re blowing our own trumpet, we also managed to win The Real Bread Campaign and Jellied Eel Magazine’s London Loaf competition. Still can’t quite believe that one.

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But obviously all this new business means making much more bread. In fact last week was our busiest to date, having processed and baked around 750 kilos of dough. Not bad for 6 months in, but far too much for one baker to handle, so our team has also had to grow. Around 3 months ago I kind of got to breaking point. I was doing all the bakes, making all the dough, doing the deliveries, cleaning, paperwork etc etc, and it became clear that we needed an extra pair of hands, or I would burn out pretty fast. As luck would have it, a friend suggested someone, and before long we had our first permanent member of staff. Her name is Julia. She’s Canadian. She plays bike polo. And she’s awesome. She’s a super quick learner, has great attention to detail, and has been invaluable in driving Brick House forward. We’ve also found a driver, Howard, had some delivery bags made and bought ourselves little van, which has taken me off the road, which is great. And we’ve also had a couple of volunteers coming to the bakery to get some work experience. Tom, who has been helping out on Saturdays since August (I think), has also been a huge help and has very much become part of the Brick House family. And more recently, Blair who’s been helping out on Friday’s. Both guys have media jobs in Soho, and I guess like I did, are dreaming of doing something a bit more fulfilling with their lives.

I should also say an extra huge, gigantic, mahooosive thanks to my wife (grab your sick bags people). They say that behind every great man is a great woman, and nowhere is this more true than at Brick House. Sharmin is as an integral part of the business as I am. She’s been a cheerleader, a voice of reason, a sounding board, and a calm head in a crisis. She’s a total rock and I really couldn’t do it with out her.

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But it’s not all been high fives and chest bumping. There have been some dark times, and plenty of tears, tantrums and sleepless nights. November in particular was a month that I would rather forget. The unit where we bake is pretty basic, and has until recently been without insulation or any kind of heating. Early in the month the temperature dropped, and to cut a long story short, our mother died on us. Pretty much the worse thing that could happen. I keep a stunt starter in the fridge, that we fed and got up to strength pretty quickly, but we had to stop production for three days. I can’t remember a time where I’ve felt more gutted than when calling up our customers to tell them they wouldn’t have bread for a few days, and whilst most of them were really cool about it, I still felt like total crap. Going into the bakery over the following few weeks felt a bit like going into battle, as we tried to tweak and change our process to compensate for the cold, with varying degrees of success.

But we’ve now got some insulation and heating, and even if our confidence is still a bit dented, we feel like we’re pretty much back on track. And as they say, with every cloud, there’s a silver lining. The experience has taught us a lot, in particular to pay closer attention to our senses and how the dough feels as opposed to sticking rigidly to timings and a process.

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So whats next? To be honest, we don’t really know. We are wary of growing too quickly, and are very keen to ensure that any increases don’t effect the quality of what we produce. That being said, we want to keep the business driving forward, and we like to think that by this time next year we’ll have some kind of retail outlet.

But that’s next year, so back to 2012. It’s only two weeks until Christmas, and despite the fact there’s a bit of a mountain to climb before then, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We’re shutting off our ovens on the 23rd of December, and not turning them on again until the 15th of January. Not only do we desperately need a break (I think I’ve probably had 5 days off since May), but we also need to take stock of everything thats been going on. Plus with all those diets going on in January, we figure that bread isn’t going to be too high on people’s agendas during the first couple of weeks of the year.

So until then, we just wanted to say a huge thanks to everyone who’s been part of Brick House so far, and Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.

See you in 2013 x

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6 Responses to “Now We Are 6 (Months)”

  1. Craig says:

    G’day Fergus,
    Congratulations to yourself and Sharmin. The bread looks great and it is awesome to read how successful it all is.
    Craig

  2. paulina says:

    Fergus it’s so nice to read your story!
    We have been following you in cyberspace in the last few months; what you’ve achieved is really great! We wish you guys all the best for 2013!
    Keep on baking :)
    Greg & Paulina

  3. Rob says:

    hola you two! so pleased its working out so well.
    Yum looks so good. How far can that little truck go? I live out west these days heh

    R :)

  4. Justin says:

    Hey Fergus – just found this and you in your new guise. Good for you – looks like you’re having a great time and making some fantastic bread. All the best with your new adventure,
    Justin

  5. Sam says:

    Hi Fergus,

    This is just to say that my girlfriend and I think that your bread is delicious and we hope that your bakery goes from strength to strength. If you make a crusty french baguette I will honestly be there everyday!

    All the best
    Sam and Nicola

  6. Maurizio says:

    Always great to hear the inside stories on small business. Your bread looks fantastic, and while I’m a world away from you, would definitely love to snag a loaf if ever in your area.

    Keep up the great work, it’s small bakeries like yours that gives us all inspiration.

    Regards,
    Maurizio
    foodtravelthought.com

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