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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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.
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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.
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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.
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
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.
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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”.
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