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Giving a voice to the artisan baker
Gail’s Bakery is one of a small number of businesses to have flourished despite the recent economic troubles in the UK. As one of the co-founders of the company, Tom Molnar’s story is certainly an interesting one with a few twists & turns!
After studying “Productive Ecology” at Dartmouth College, he went on to become, among other things, a fish farmer! After a while however he joined the agricultural company Cargill as a commodities trader before eventually going on to work for the management consultancy company McKinsey in London.
“Gail was running the business and we really liked the concept of it but we knew it wasn’t making a profit so in 2004 we decided that the time was right to get involved and see if we couldn’t turn it round. So we bought half the business and proceeded to work ourselves to the bone”
Since then Gail’s Bakery has gone from strength to strength, and in Tom’s mind this has a lot to do with the prime focus of the team which has always been on making great bread products. In the course of the presentation yesterday morning, at the Commonwealth Club on Northumberland Avenue, Tom was keen to point out that the bakery is not a health-food store – they are quality, artisan bakers providing a delicious food to the local community.
“We are technically a chain of stores, but really each of the shops is the local bakery for the community it serves, and that’s important to the ethos of the company”
Community is something clearly at the heart of the company too. Having grown to 13 shops with 2 more to be opened soon, the team have also opened “Gail’s Kitchen” in Myhotel, Bloomsbury. Bread and other bakery products from Gail’s are available in Waitrose and Ocado and the company has grown to over 600 staff. Yet despite all this growth, Tom sees Gail’s as a “non-chain, chain”.
Rolline Frewen, Admirable Crichton – Clare Garcia, MITIE – Philip Warden, The Petersham and Elvetham hotels
As Gail’s grew Tom’s focus has remained resolutely on making great bread products. In the course of the morning he pointed out that it is not his role to try to influence how people live or what choices they make in terms of the food they buy. He observed that in the beginning the founders envisioned a bakery store with wall-to-wall freshly baked breads on offer, and that there would be a near permanent queue of customers through the door.
Of course this wasn’t quite the reality and two years ago the founding team realised that they needed some strategic help and guidance to cope with their expanding business.
And so when Gail Stephens opted to leave the business altogether in May 2011 Luke Johnson from Risk Capital Partners came into the frame to buy out her share.
“We’re break makers. We’re very good bread makers, yes but we’re not retailers! We needed someone with that skill, that knowledge to come and help us out. Luke has been the perfect person for that”
In today’s challenging market, Tom observed that one of the biggest challenges facing Gail’s is the competition for prime sites. In the past Gail’s were paid as much as £100,000 by O2 to vacate one property which the communications giant wanted for their own purposes.
“Of course we were happy to do that, then because it made sense and we were able to find another property in the same community. But times have changed and the competition for great sites is stronger than ever. The difference now is that the competition is with the landlords rather than other tenants”
David Cheeseman, The Bagel Factory & Jean-Michel Orieux, Paul UK
Alan Morgan ETC Hospitality
Damian Clarkson The London Kitchen
One of the biggest challenges facing an artisan bakery is the price of the loaf of bread and the perception of what constitutes “expensive”.
“The funny thing is that people have been conditioned to spend as much as £2:50 for a simple cup of coffee. That’s a massive mark-up on something that is just one basic ingredient and some boiling water. Now compare that to making a loaf of bread which can take as much as two days to make, and takes the efforts of a skilled baker to create. Creating a ‘real’ loaf of bread takes time, effort and skill and yet people are conditioned by supermarkets to think that what they’re offering for 90p is the same thing when it’s not at all”
Lucy Horner IndiCater
Ria Sands Artizian
John Harris The Good Eating Company
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