I’m just back from a week away in Suffolk. It was great to switch on my ‘out-of-office’ and head up the coast for a change in scenery, fresh air and (mostly) a WiFi free zone.
One thing I love about Suffolk is its food scene. The county has an abundance of food suppliers, cafes, pubs and restaurants. There are small independent bakeries and vineyards alongside the more established brands such as Adnams, the business which powers the brewery, distillery, wine shops, pubs and hotels.
My attention is inevitably drawn to the smaller brands: this is where the interesting stuff happens. I love hearing founders’ stories of how they turned their passions into a business.
Here in Suffolk I found plenty of examples of small foodie brands who don’t simply serve the good stuff, but who are also driven by a strong purpose. And a purpose that feels genuine rather than merely a marketing slogan to stick up on a website.
From my journey around Suffolk here are three brands that are worth watching:
- Pump Street Bakery. Famous for its hotel, long established oysterage and even longer-established castle, you won’t find much else here apart from a pub and general store. Now Orford is getting famous for something else. In a 15th century building on the village square lies Pump Street Bakery, started by father and daughter Chris and Joanna Brennan in 2010. When Chris retired from a job at IBM, he taught himself how to bake bread. Today he runs the bakery, whilst his daughter takes care of the shop and café. Not only do they serve up great bread, pastries and coffee - which you can enjoy around a large communal table - they have also built Pump Street upon some decent values. The bakery uses local flour and produce, they started a fund to support local community projects, they even give unsold bread to a family hostel in Ipswich. It’s the kind of place worth taking a detour to - the woman in front of me had come from Norwich just for the cakes. I told the kids we were going to Orford for the castle, but really it was for the coffee.
- Darsham Nurseries. On a stretch of the A12 between a petrol station and a railway level crossing is a left turn for Darsham Nurseries. In a ‘blink and you’d miss it’ spot, there’s not only a nursery for plants, but also a café and gift shop, selling everything from cacti to stationery. Whilst the menu has a middle eastern influence they still manage to grow most of the ingredients in their kitchen garden: lettuce, kale, chillies, greens and edible flowers. The project was started by Californian garden designer David Keleel in 2007 when he took over the then near-derelict premises. The café opened in 2014 and is currently run by head chef Lola DeMille. Recently it was honoured in the National Restaurant Awards, at number 80 in the 'Top 100 Restaurants in the UK'. Last week I spotted a beautiful summerhouse in the garden that’s available for private dining. It looks idyllic (picture above).
- Two Magpies Bakery. Four days last week we headed to Southwold beach where we soon established a routine. Whilst I set up basecamp on the sand with a picnic blanket and windbreak, my wife would head to the high street to pick up our fuel. Two Magpies Bakery wasn’t the closest coffee shop to the beach, but we knew from previous visits that their coffee was the best in town. It was started in 2012 by husband and wife Jim and Rebecca Bishop. Jim is a former bomb disposal expert who quit the British Army to learn to bake. Passionate about connecting people with great food, the Bishops have a busy cafe at the front of the premises with an artisan bakery at the back. Every day there was a long queue for the coffee, but it was worth the wait.
It’s great to see indie brands and entrepreneurs thriving away from the big towns and cities, especially in a tougher market where consumers are watching their pennies. After all, these guys are competing on the quality of their produce rather than price. But it’s like my friend David Hieatt says: 'Quality' is a good business model...