PRODUCE: BREAD, CAKES, PASTRIES & BAKED GOODS
DISTANCE TO TABLE: 1.7 MILES
If you’ve ever found yourself down the side of Temple Meads station around lunchtime, you might have noticed a curious scrummage of people emanating from one of the tunnel shaped spaces. This is probably Hart’s Bakery. Naturally I swung by to see what all the fuss was about.
Laura Hart started the bakery back in 2012. After being made redundant from her job as a pastry chef, she stumbled across a kitchen space just off Whiteladies Road and decided to give full time baking a go. “I just set up there on my own, baking a few things,” she tells me. “It was a very random space; people had to go down a back alley, up a fire escape, through a car park… I had the great big wooden table that I’ve got in here now and I would bake at one end and have the shop at the other end. There were some days when nobody came in; it’s hard to imagine those now!” she declares, looking around at the full tables and long queue at the counter.
After a year, the space she was using was needed back by the restaurant, so she set about looking for a more permanent location. “It took me a long time, over a year,” she explains. “Then I walked in here, and this is exactly the space that we wanted; something big enough to be totally open plan so you can see everything. Now we’re bursting at the seems here - we thought we’d never outgrow something this size.” And it’s a beautiful space; the beautiful curved metal lined roof turning into green tiled walls. Your eye is drawn back into the bakery, where there’s a captivating scene of bakers at work; croissants being rolled, pasties being filled, dough being mixed…
This visual is a key part of the space for Laura. “It was a big part of what I wanted to do here, connecting the people that were making it with the customers. Baking's usually done at industrial scale or at night. Some customers don't see it; they come in and say, 'Oh so where do you get your croissants from?' And then other people will come and ask us for help us with their baking. I think it’s important to give the option for people to be interested if they want to or learn more if they want to.” We chat about the working hours of the bakers too. There’s around 18 people working in the bakery, starting at 5am. “We do this very long, slow process which means that we don't have to work at night. It also means the bakers are working during the day so there's something going on. By slowing everything down, we've actually got this very nice rhythm. So the croissants take 3 days, the bread takes 2 days.”
The bread is worth the wait though. “Sourdough is the bread I most like to make and eat,” she tells me. “I really wanted to concentrate on a small range and do a few things well, rather than different bakeries that do hundreds of different types. Three years later we still only make four different types, and I'm so grateful that it seems to be enough for most people. And that's so satisfying, because it's a scary thing to say 'This is what I want to make, take it or leave it.’” And people do indeed seem to love it, as the empty shelves at the end of each day show. They make 180 loaves a day, rising to 300 at the weekend, and I know people to travel across the city to grab a loaf of their famous gluten free ‘Good Loaf’.
I sip my coffee, and we chat about the area. Temple Meads isn’t exactly where you’d expect to find an artisan bakery, but the success of the bakery shows how much it is needed. “It's really nice to provide a social space here at Temple Meads,” Laura points out. “It's a bit of a weird area; there's a lot of people here, but there's not many places to hang out. There's lots of offices and young funky companies, who I guess are our ideal target audience. And there's the huge number of people going through the station every day, who've now realised they can get a decent cup of coffee; we tend to see them quite regularly.” She goes on to tell me that a the weekend it’s a different demographic, a lot of young families, and many of her old customers from Whiteladies Road who make the trip down.
People are drawn back by a constantly changing menu and selection of savoury and sweet goods on the counter. “It’s nice having a real foodie team here,” she says. “We’re always talking about what we had for dinner last night, or where we’re eating out or what everyone else is up to.” Her team are key to success of the operation. “It relies so heavily on really good people, and they’re hard to find. Trying to staff another outlet or manage another thing; it just doesn’t bear thinking about really. This is more than a handful!” she points out. So no plans for a chain of bakeries? “I've already gone quite a lot further than I thought I would here. It's a lot busier and a much bigger scene than I'd imagined or anticipated. And I just want to focus on making this better, every year a bit better not bigger, and to keep a handle on it. That’s increasingly difficult when we're so busy, to keep up on the quality, and so I just want to focus on that. I have no ambition to have a chain or franchise. It doesn't appeal at all; I don't know how you can keep the personal touch or the quality.”
One thing she does do increasingly is open the space up for other events. “Mainly people come and ask me if they can do something, and I'm usually too excited to say no,” she explains, laughing. “We close at 3pm, and the space is sitting empty a lot of the time as we're closed on Sundays and Mondays, so it's really great to have it used for all sorts of things.” Upcoming is a pop up Indian night, a pizza night, cheese making classes, and some butchery and charcuterie workshops.
Laura has to hurry back to work; there’s bread to be made and things to be baked. I get distracted by the croissants that are being created in front of my eyes, and find myself dodging busy bakers to watch the process. Finally I decide to get out of their way and grab myself a freshly baked pain au chocolat for the road. As I leave, I bite into the decadent layers of the crisp pastry and reflect this might be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
Find out more: http://www.hartsbakery.co.uk