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If you’re new to the Town Mill Bakery and our ethos then it’s probably a good idea to let you know how it all works… and why we do things this way.

 Our bakery restaurants are made up of five distinct brands: breakfast, lunch, tea, supper and our shop. We don’t do all-day-breakfasts, cake in the morning or scones for supper and we never will, no matter how many times people come in asking for it.

 Why we say ‘no’

The thing is, we say ‘no’ a lot, but not just to be difficult or lazy. We think ‘no’ can be a really useful word.

 For example, no we don’t have Coca Cola, we serve fresh apple juice, because no matter which one of our restaurants you are visiting you can pretty much guarantee that there’s an apple orchard within a 20-mile radius producing gallons of the stuff.

 No, we don’t have highchairs because we believe that if your child is too tiny to sit up on their own they should sit on your lap. Even if they’re not too small they can still sit on your lap. My wife’s Italian and there are no high chairs in restaurants her part of Italy.

 And no, we don’t sell marmalade, we have local jams – and will continue to do so until oranges are grown in this country.

 Saying ‘no’ is what defines us as people, but also as a business. If you say ‘yes’ all the time then no one knows your limits, or the shape of you. Saying ‘no’ sets clear distinctions between what you can expect to eat in our restaurants at different times of the day, which is:

 Breakfast (every day from 8.30am until noon-ish) which is all about toast, croissants and other pastries plus our jam and peanut butter, our own butter, boiled eggs and muesli. In winter there’s also porridge, and in summer there’s yoghurt and fruit.

 Lunch (12.30pm-ish until 2.30pm or until we run out) will always be some kind of hearty soup or stew in winter, and salads in summer, using fresh, seasonal ingredients.

 Tea (2.30pm until 4.30pm-ish) is cakes and scones with our own butter and jam, all made right here and emerging from the oven piping hot from half two in the afternoon.

 Supper (Monday to Saturday from 5pm until 8pm in August only) is our pizzas, based on the trusty margherita with whatever seasonal topping we fancy using that day.

 It’s like this: if you went to stay with a friend for the weekend you’d have breakfast food at breakfast, lunch at lunchtime, tea and cakes in the afternoon if you were lucky, and then a totally different meal in the evening. That’s just the way families at home think and operate.

.Why we sell our own stuff, and no one else ever will

Our shop is stocked only with what we’ve made ourselves, or what we’ve asked specially chosen craftspeople and producers to make for us – things we like and know exactly where they’ve come from.

 For example, our coffee beans and ground coffee are blended and roasted exclusively for us by Nigel at the Dorset Coffee Company. His expertise means that he selects and roasts every single coffee by hand, using his highly-honed senses of sight, sound, smell and taste to give each blend its own distinctive flavour and aroma. In turn, our barristas need to be experts in making the perfect cup of coffee, as well as being to tell our customers exactly where the coffee comes from, and why we favour that particular blend.

 Lots of the food products we sell in our shop will be things that we’ve made too much of that day, so you have the chance to buy what’s left over. We are happy to put our name on them because we know what’s in them because we made them fresh ourselves from proper ingredients. You’ll never see any of our products being sold anywhere else, because that’s the dark, murky world that necessitates mass production and leads to compromising on quality, value and taste – something we absolutely won’t do.

 Why we let people pay as they leave

Back in the 1990s BT ran its famous ‘It’s good to talk’ campaign, which is where I first came across the phenomenon of making friends and building relationships by reciprocating confidences.

 If you don’t trust people by sharing confidences you’ll only be acquaintances but never friends. From the playground to the workplace and the nursing home, telling one person a secret shows them that you trust them, and opens the door for them to trust you with a secret of their own, which is how friendships are born.

 That’s how we see it with our brand. By working out your bill by asking you to tell us what you’ve had to eat and drink we feel we’re creating a solid relationship that goes beyond just being a transaction and can become a friendship. It’s nothing to do with an honesty policy; it’s about reciprocating confidences, and that’s what defines us and sets us apart from the Costas, the Starbucks and even the River Cottages. I don’t have to tell you that no matter how many times you eat in River Cottage you won’t become friends with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

 It’s not about doing things for our convenience

Conventional wisdom has it that the food business should be operationally led to maximise profits and enable rapid growth. This means using low-skilled workers at the point of customer contact who need only use the most basic of equipment to heat up and serve pre-prepared food and drink with the minimum time, effort and skill.

 This is not how we like to do things. We have a reputation for freshness and flavour, and we didn’t get that by batch cooking. Whatever we are making is prepared fresh each day by our expert staff who we’ve trained ourselves – some of whom joined us as apprentices – and set their own standards. We don’t make huge vats of things that will last all week because that would be doing something purely for our own convenience, and that’s not what we’re about.

 And we don’t give our dishes fancy names. Pizza is pizza, jam is jam (not compote) and it’s a Swiss roll, not a roulade. We are all about being straightforward and straight talking. We want to give you food you recognise, at the proper times of day, made in small quantities that promote freshness and quality, and served in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

 Yes, this kind of quality might be harder work and cost more, but we believe people can tell the difference and should strive to seek out value over price where they can afford it because, sadly (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) the consumer age has left too many people knowing the price of everything but the value of fuck all.

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Us Brits, as a nation, are technologically and economically revolutionary, but socially and politically conservative.

But how does this manifest itself? An ideal example is the Mini. The original has been loved since the 60s for the freedom and design ideals it represented. Even now we have a huge emotional attachment to it as a concept, but hardly any of us actually bought one. It’s only now – since BMW took it under its wing – that we are flocking to own one, because we can play our iPods in it and it’s a lot harder to die in the new version that the old one.

We all long for little bits of the past, like going to Gran’s house for tea and all the rituals associated with that. We hanker after these things, and we know how to behave with the context of them. The social aspect of eating with family and friends, and the types of foods we want to eat at those occasions has become like part of our DNA. The merest mention of a fig roll or a jammy dodger gets everyone swooning.

So what’s that got to do with our brand? Much as the thought of an all-day-breakfast might seem attractive, do you really want to eat a full English at four o’clock in the afternoon? It’s just not quite right, and there’s even a sense of guilt attached to it.

We like the old timetables. Yes, we might look at our mobile phones to tell us what the time is, but our bodies know when it’s breakfast, lunch, tea and supper time, and what they really want to eat.

This is why our bakeries make Swiss rolls, not ‘roulades’, and why our chocolate chip cookies and ginger nuts look and taste like the ones you remember from your childhood – except maybe they’re the biggest ones you’ve ever seen. We want to make food that people recognise, because we all have a love affair with these nostalgic things and want to recognise the common thread within them.

Yes, we use iPads as our tills and to play the music in the bakeries. We like to think that we move with the times, but in this day and age the real value in anything lies in knowing what bits of our heritage to hang on to with both hands, and which bits can be discarded. Not everything (or everyone) that’s old is past it, or beyond improving.


Someone asked me the other day who had inspired me in my life, and I couldn’t think of an answer.

This may have been down to the fact that the person asking the question was a veteran of the conflicts in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, where he worked as a bomb disposal expert for more than 20 years.

It would have felt a bit trite giving him an answer like Steve Jobs because – much as I admire Mr Jobs’ contribution to the world – he never had much of an impact on the life of someone putting themselves in the line of fire like that every day.

On the other hand, I realised that actually what’s inspired me in my life isn’t a person, but an insult that someone threw my way back in the 1980s at a design awards banquet in London when I was working in the design industry. As I walked to my table and passed by a group of people from a rival creative agency one of them said, loudly, to the others: “Here comes yesterday’s man”.

Those words still ring in my ears every week, decades later, and inspire me never to be yesterday’s man.


ImageYou might have heard the word on the street that we’ve put the franchise of our Town Mill Bakery in Lyme Regis, Dorset, up for sale.

 We don’t want any of our customers to panic so thought we’d better set the record straight about exactly what we’re doing, and why.

 You probably already know that we recently opened a Town Mill Bakery in Royal William Yard in Plymouth, and that we’ve got another one coming soon in Poundbury, Dorset.

 Both of these are large spaces, and we’ve got big plans for them. In fact, our Plymouth bakery restaurant has been so successful that we’re about to move it to even larger premises in Royal William Yard so that we can include a school, an indoor market, and even a brewery, dairy and coffee roasting unit on site.

 Unsurprisingly all of this expansion takes money, and what with banks being unforthcoming with funding for businesses like ours at the moment we’ve had to find other ways to finance our plans.

 This is why we’ve decided to sell the franchise for the Town Mill Bakery in Lyme Regis. We love Lyme – it’s where our Town Mill Bakery dream began – but our site there is simply not large enough for us to expand into any further. Using it as an asset to raise funds enables us to inject some new blood and new creativity into our Lyme bakery, as well as freeing up some money to enable us to push on with our plans.

 However, because we’re selling only the franchise for Lyme it means that nothing there will change except for the faces you see running the place. It’ll still cook, serve and sell the fresh, seasonal and simple foods that you’ve grown to love because we’ll continue to oversee the menu and source the ingredients. In fact, we will be very selective about who we choose to take over from us there. We won’t just take the first offer that comes along – the people who we decide are the right ones to run it will have to reflect the soul of the place, and come into it with the right spirit.

 

Maybe that person could even be you? You’d have the safety net of being a member of the Town Mill Bakery family, as well as the chance to be part of the South West’s burgeoning food community.

 If you’re interested in a new challenge then have a look at the finer details on our estate agent’s website at http://www.martindiplock.co.uk/propertyDetails.php?pid=417980 or contact Martin Diplock Estate Agents & Valuers, 36 Broad Street, Lyme Regis, telephone (01297) 445500.

 


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The economist EF Schumacher wrote a book we love called “Small is Beautiful” and we use this book as a bible. It’s our aim to keep our system as enclosed as possible with the origins of our products as close to home as we can. That’s why all the food we serve here is made on site. Everything comes in as an ingredient, to become part of something which we bake and cook and prepare here ourselves. We don’t buy ready-made stuff because we don’t want to contribute to someone else’s profit or be held hostage by their standards of quality.

Our main bakery

if you’re new to the Royal William Yard Bakery coming here is a bit like going to eat at your mum’s house because you never know what you’re going to get, but what’s on the table is what you’ll eat. This is proper, healthy, hand-made food and the menu changes daily depending on what’s in season and what we fancied making that day.

Our Dairy

This is where we make all our butter and cheeses, only enough for the day ahead, just as a farmer’s wife would have before we got all corporate. If, by chance, there’s any left over at the end of the day, we’ll sell it in our indoor market.

Our prep and wash-up room

There’s water, there’s sinks, there’s people preparing things and washing up – just what you’d expect, really.

Our indoor market

Here we sell stuff we make or stuff producers we love make It will be from bread to bowls, and herbs to rolling pins. Our indoor market is for producers who are on the edge of moving from the kitchen table or shed to full-blown production of items that can be available for sale everyday rather than once a week. Here we will sell meat produce

Our school

Anything can happen in here, but whatever it is you’ll come out more intelligent than when you went in. We hold lessons about everything from food and enterprise to wellbeing and philosophy, with teachers drawn from our staff and suppliers, or even passing aesthetes and kinfolk.

Our walled garden

Everything we plant in here is edible, and lots of it is grown specifically for us to use in our kitchen or sell in our indoor market. This is where you’ll also find our vertical garden, as well as an outdoor wood-fired oven.

 Our industrial estate

We love the history of people and their sheds, and all the great ideas that come from them. Our seven shipping containers are home to an ever-changing band of artisans and creators including a pottery, a micro-brewery, a coffee roasting outfit, wood turning and gardening gurus, with space left over to be filled by anyone with an interesting or useful craft or skill. In fact, if you’d like to inhabit one of our sheds and demonstrate what you do we’re always keen to hear pitches from anyone doing anything that fits with the output or ethos of our business.



Thoughts on… where we are going

I’ve decided to totally embrace “Small Is Beautiful”, a philosophy and way of life brought to us by the British economist E. F. Schumacher.

The phrase “Small Is Beautiful” came from his teacher Leopold Kohr, and is often used to champion small, appropriate technologies that are believed to empower people more, in contrast with phrases such as “bigger is better”.

I think there is an underlying mistrust of the corporate world which is growing more visible and vocal.

Let’s look at example of corporate failure caused by greed.Thornton’s chocolates were once a prized gift. They were something you took as a present to someone’s house if you were going for a special dinner, or a Christmas present for someone you wanted to impress. They were handmade, hard to get and therefore very expensive. But when they started being mass produced in a factory and sold in every high street and supermarket they became less of a prized gift and more of a token one.

That greed has bought about the fall of the high street too and, like an alcoholic, landlords and town councils are so addicted to high rents and business taxes that they will not own up to the fact that it’s not in their best interests until they hit rock bottom.

My radar is picking up the feeling that people want to trust. They want to be stress-free consumers. They want to believe what it says on the can. They need to know the producer, they need to see the product being produced, and it’s only then do they know it’s real.

Do that and you have a long-term relationship built on value, belief and trust, rather than a soulless transaction based on price alone.

When we open inPlymouthin October, and Poundbury in June 2012, these restaurants will be species of the mothership in Lyme and not clones. They and any future bakery will get their names from their geographic position – i.e. The Royal William Bakery and the Butter Market Bakery.

As with Lyme we will make everything on site in view of our customers, and each product will be branded with the name of the place of manufacture. Items will come in as ingredients and will be turned into a product that can be consumed on the premises or taken away as groceries to be eaten at home.

This isn’t necessarily the easiest way of doing it for us, but it’s the most authentic, and it’s the way I believe our consumers want to see things done.

Because as my father used to say “if it was easy, everyone would do it”.


We all love applause a dammed lot more than we like criticism. But to paraphrase Kipling, if we can treat those two imposters just the same…

The thing is, while applause is great it’s often criticism which is more useful… as long as it’s focused on the problem. But I think I speak for just about everyone in a creative business when I say it’s the over-egged criticism that provokes acute frustration.

If just one person blogs or tweets that they really, really hated the experience in your restaurant, you instantly forget the twenty who loved it and stay awake all night worrying that the business is going to fail because of that bad review. I completely understand why actors take to drink.

And it’s not that we don’t want people to say what they think; it’s just that we want real, honest feedback focused on the point of our failure, rather than something confusing and beefed up by adding 20 other minor or non-existent offences for good measure.

I have obviously experienced this recently because why else would I be writing this.

Someone wrote this same criticism in several travel review sites: “Don’t be deceived by some of the reviews you may find about this place, my own experience at least was quite poor. I walked into this place with a friend just before 2pm mid week May and the whole place was shambolic. There was no help at the counter where just a few unappetising bits of food were left over. My mate had a soup and I ended up having a slice of cake as there was no savoury choice left, just a few sorry looking salad leaves. I had to shout at the surly baker to ask them what to do and was told to just grab what I wanted and to move on to one of the benches where one of the waitresses would have taken my drinks order. We sat down, among the abundant debris of other diners, finished our meagre repast and nobody materialised. The two waitresses were busier chatting away with some of the locals, but made no attempt at making eye contact so we walked out, paying close to £9 for one tomato soup and a slice of cake, consumed surrounded by dirty dishes. Frankly I don’t know how places can get away with such poor service. You are better off with a takeaway on a park bench, at least you know you are not being ripped off.”

However, what then tends to happen is that a happy customer comes to our aid with counter explanation of the experience, such as this one: “We visited this bakery in May; we almost walk past as it’s slightly set back from the road. It is a working bakery, at the back is were you can see all the bread, cakes & savouries being prepared & cooked, the seating is simple & basic with 2 very long communal tables with long benches either side. It is basically self service, for breakfast you find a space (if you can it gets very busy) get your tea or coffee from the table on the side wall, the coffee is fresh made, then go over to the other side where there a huge selection of freshly baked bread, grab a loaf & start slicing, drop you bread into the toaster & away you go, butter, jam & peanut butter are in huge bowls on the tables, Toast was £2.95 for as much as you can eat. As the morning moves on towards lunchtime all the lunch food starts to come out, a very good choice of pizza, flans & all manor of savoury things all £5.95 for a big portion. If you have your heart set on something in particular you need to be quick as its goes very quickly.”

The problem is that all the extra criticisms of the complainer get in the way of the things we can actually fix. For example when the complainer spoke of “sitting down, among the abundant debris of other diners” we recognised this as an issue and have now focused our energies on clearing away as soon as people leave the table, or before.

If you actually complain to us while you are in our restaurants we can do something to rectify the problem then and there. Hopefully you’d go away happy and be more likely to come back, and we wouldn’t stay up all night wishing you’d said something when you were there, instead of torturing us with a rambling online grump.

So next time you’re in one of our restaurants and you think all is not well, please please tell us. We can take it. And we can probably fix it too.


I know I was zigging while everyone else was zagging, but when I started this business in the summer of 2005 I had a vision that we would have a string of baker-owned bakeries.

The idea was that each baker would be given shares in the business at whatever outlet they ran, but we would provide the premises, equipment, infrastructure, branding and marketing.

We called it our simple, repeatable formula.

However, because at the time I didn’t have any fuck-it-we’re-doing-it-my-way-money my vision got sidetracked by others who were driven by cash, ego or conventional wisdom.

This meant that we ended up following conventional wisdom, which was to use industrial units with cheap rents in which to bake bread, and have a fleet of vans and army of drivers distributing to kiosks, cafés and stores in the high street.

While that is a rational way of doing things, it has no sex appeal to the consumer, and it ended up not working for us.

Over the past five years I’ve realised that following conventional wisdom has failed us, but now we have a big opportunity to rethink our business. I like to think of it in the context of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. 

What my instinct was telling me back in 2005 was that customers who don’t have to make their purchasing decisions based solely on price want sex with their purchase. Not literally, of course, but you get the idea.

What this means is that they go to Tesco to get commodities like toilet rolls, but buy their chicken with added heart and soul from places like River Cottage.

My generation – the baby boomers – have been creating brands since birth; just think of the NHS, Mary Quant, Thomson Holidays, Habitat, Mothercare, Halifax Building Society, The Pru and, more recently, Saga Holidays.

However, as this generation gets older its needs change, and brands grow and shrink accordingly. A prime example is Glastonbury. 40 years ago the festival-goers pissed in fields but now they want luxury toilets with soft paper and a hand basin. This desire to change the status quo is in their and, now, their children’s genes.

This generation and their children are our customers and, after all, they make up 50% of the population and they are not poor.

When we brought bread-making back to Lyme from our unit in Topsham sales went up, and this was because people appreciated that we were baking onsite and rewarded us with their custom. Quality also went up, because the freshness improved too.

But now I want to take this even further, or rather I want to take a step backwards to the original, pre-war baking schedule of the baker. Our bakers will start at 4.00am with bread made first, morning goods next, then a lunch offer and finally pastries for tea. Then they’ll head home around 2.00pm leaving the sponges on for the next day, while the apprentice does pizzas in the evening because he’s young and needs the tips.

So now it’s time to think about spreading our business model even further afield.

What I want to continue working towards is the pre-war idea of a tradesman/shopkeeper making his living from his own output, craft, imagination and personality. In that pre-war world, delivery was expensive and slow, and distance-to-market was limited by car technology and a relatively under-developed road network – I’m talking horse and cart or a tiny engine in a tiny van, although this idea may turn out to be even more relevant today than it was five years ago, given our current economic climate with rising fuel costs and cuts in bus routes and so on.

So how do we do it?

We start by training bakers. Plenty of people are shelling out ridiculous sums of money to attend training courses at artisan bakery schools so we know there are people out there wanting to learn the craft of bakery.

We’ll start with one apprentice on a graded pay scale over the course of their training. Once they are fully trained we’ll send them off to run one of our bakeries, and to give them an incentive to work hard we’ll give them shares – 20% – that will pay them a dividend of the monthly profits of that outlet on top of a £7,543 salary.

They’ll only have to produce 200-300 loaves of five different types of bread, which will more than meet customer demand, and because everything will be made on site it will save us time and guarantee the freshness of the product every day.

Since we’re no longer doing wholesale, this will increase the individual profitability of each of the bakeries in our estate and enable each one to become a brand in its own right, with its own personality.

And that’s it. Simple and effective, giving the customer just the right amount of quirky, relaxed, 21st century, sustainable glamour with their pain de campagne, cup of coffee or lemon slice.

After all, we’re not just in the food business; we’re in the entertainment business. Our customers want more than simply sustenance – it’s the entertaining parts of life that people remember and want to keep returning to. That’s what builds a brand: an addiction to fun.


As some of you may have noticed, I recently had a bit of a rant on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Town-Mill-Bakery/213293970927) about the August visitors (for some reason it only seems to happen in August) who think that it’s a lifestyle choice to just waste food or, in this particular case, left piles of uneaten crusts and bits of bread on their plates.

I have to apologise for the ‘rantiness’ of what I said because I could have put it better and maybe started a debate rather than encouraging people to rant back, but I’m not apologising for the sentiment expressed.
 
What I wanted to do was simply address the issue of waste when it comes to food. Here’s another good example…
 
Natalie, our chef, cook and mother to three children came in early this Saturday to make jam with hundreds of punnets of English strawberries that she’d bought the night before from her local Co-op superstore. They had one day left on their ‘sell by date’ and were reduced to 25p a punnet, so Natalie spent £150 on them and would have bought four times as many were it not for the fact that she had reached the limit on her credit card.
 
It’s highly likely that the rest of the strawberries she didn’t buy ended up in the supermarket’s skip, probably because of a sales promotion gone wrong and stock calculations mismanaged.
 
What a waste.
 
I know it’s a cliché, but this is where the butterfly wing effect happens. Work backwards from those hundreds of punnets of wasted strawberries, add the hundreds of others stores involved in the promotion and think about the energy used to heat the poly-tunnel, make the packaging, transport them from grower to market or to the distribution centre, then on to ALL the stores, and chill them on display. The transport cost, wages and time of all the people involved in the growing and the handling has simply been wasted.
 
Maybe it can’t be helped, but surely parts of it at least can be avoided?
 
Something that can be helped is not wasting the jam that Natalie makes for our breakfasts by smothering it on bits of bread or slices of toast that then don’t get eaten.
 
The modus operandi in our place is trust. When it comes to bread, we have a sign by the toaster that encourages people to have “as much as you like”. We rewrite it each day because it gets smudged, so the wording changes from time to time, but it has never said “all you can eat” because the former is an invitation, while the latter a challenge.
 
We also have another sign which explains how eating at Town Mill Bakery works. It tells you to:
Find somewhere to sit
Grab a wooden board [your plate]
Take what you want to eat
Order your hot drinks at the coffee machine
Remember what you’ve had
And pay when you’re leaving.
 
Again, a system based on mutual trust. We’re human beings and we like to treat our customers as human beings too. Our business is not a faceless corporate entity and we don’t view our customers as either cash cows or sacred ones.
 
We are also vigorous supporters of our local economy. We make just about everything in house that you’ll eat in all our restaurants – apart from the sugar, salt, milk, cheese and butter, pretty much – using local ingredients as much as possible. So, for example, we make jam rather than marmalade because oranges are not grown in England, let alone locally. Having said that, we do make peanut butter, but the importer – like our suppliers of seeds, nuts, olive oil, coffee and tea – is very local.
 
We also directly employ over 60 people and, indirectly, getting on for a thousand.
 
So my point is this: comments left in response to my rant about waste on Facebook, and others on mums.net, included a fair few in the early stages that said “He has a point”. However, they were soon drowned out by the ones saying “Get over it because we live in a Western capitalist, highly disposable country.”
 
It’s almost like people have resigned themselves to that as fact, and that it somehow allows them to be wasteful simply because they have paid for something.
 
We also live in a Christian country but it doesn’t mean you have to believe in a God.
 
We’re not saying we’re whiter than white, but there are people starving all over the world because they don’t have access to plentiful food supplies – like in Pakistan right now – or because they can’t afford enough food, like many families even in this country.
 
I just think that’s something we should bear in mind next time we’re leaving half of that second or third or fourth piece of bread loaded with jam that we didn’t really want in the first place but thought we’d have a go at just because it’s there and we felt entitled to take more than enough.