From the Head to the Kitchen
About 8 months ago Mollie (my fiancée) and I were living in Madrid, Spain. We spent just under a year there, teaching English and exploring the country. One day we had an idea, Mollie is a great baker, and in the past had managed to create a gluten, dairy and sugar free brownie recipe. What struck us was that we had never actually seen anything like this in existence, sure we’d eaten gluten free bakes before, but never something with all these other removals. So the natural idea was to think, can we sell these?
Two problems presented themselves early on: we needed consistent recipes and more than just the one, and we needed to figure out how the hell you actually start a business.
Starting a business is sexy right now, it’s the cool thing to do. Which means that there is a lot of people out there who talk about starting their own thing, and that’s great. What I found early on was that you really have to filter through the bad advice. I was teaching in the evenings in Madrid, so I spent most of the day, of most days researching how businesses work. There is a lot more to it legally that you’re never told. For example are you going to register your business as a Sole Trader? A Partnership? A Limited Company? Or even a Limited Partnership? What the hell do those even mean?
More and more information came out as I researched startups. In the UK, at least, if you want to run a food business, you need to register with the Food Standards Agency (FSA). So now there are two hurdles, register with the tax man as a business, and then register with the FSA. The FSA is also filled with a complex collection of information about how to run a food business. Reading through all this was both re-assuring, knowing places I buy food from have to match these standards, and daunting, knowing we too would have to match these standards.
I spent weeks reading bits of advice, handbooks, guidelines, case studies and more trying to wrap my head around all these rules and regulations. It was confusing at first, but several themes came out: make the place cleanable, and clean it, take care of your food and ingredients, and monitor how things are changing and how risks change with time. These are quite generic but do work in practice. Take your kitchen at home, do you have a cat? And does that cat jump on the surfaces in the kitchen? If you do and it does, then that isn’t going to work for running a food production company.
Where the hell do you go?
So we had an understanding of what we needed, and in the meantime Mollie had been working on further recipes, so progress is being made. The next issue was where on earth do we run this thing from? The initial idea was maybe to run the bakery from home, and focus on going to customers instead of customers coming to us, so we work as a food manufacturing and wholesale company. Great idea but we thought about it more and that doesn’t really fit with what we want, we want to meet customers, talk to customers and get to know them. Plus getting a home kitchen health approved sounded like a very overwhelming task.
Next idea, what if we found somewhere that had a kitchen that would could share? I have a lot of friends who work in the arts and use co-working spaces around the world, the idea being you pay for your space, but you’re in an environment that is conducive to what we’re trying to achieve. Why couldn’t the same thing work for small food companies? Everyone needs a kitchen that they can work in, but kitchens can be incredibly expensive to install and maintain, so sharing that cost would be perfect. We approached a lot of different small kitchens and cafes here in Norwich and the response wasn’t great. Many didn’t wish to share, or at least not with us, fair enough. Maybe the idea was too scary, or sharing such a personal space would be too much, I understand that. This isn’t an idea I’ve given up on, I just haven’t found the right space for it yet.
Okay so what now? Maybe we could open our own place? Norwich is littered with cafes and bakeries, so it’s a very saturated market, but we felt that what we offer is so different it would still work. The problem here being money, buying or renting a space to fit a kitchen is vey expensive. We would need a loan or some financial investment to get something on this scale working. Considering the limited testing we’ve done on our products it didn’t seem like a wise idea to commit to large loan payments so early on, the financial pressure would have limited our creative freedom, something we both hold very dear.
Where are we now then? In the end we went back to the idea of working from home, we’ve renovated our kitchen, registered with the local council and are now waiting to have our kitchen inspected and approved. It will be cheaper, less risky, give us more control and give us more freedom, which is arguably the most important thing.
The Game Plan
The plan now is to get the kitchen approved and then visit markets around Norfolk weekly, selling our products anywhere we can and trying to raise our profile as the go to bakery in Norfolk. This means that we can go where we please, try different products, try different methods and really enjoy the process of seeing what works and what doesn’t. Even repainting our kitchen for the past few days has been fun, I can’t imagine the stress and pressure of opening a high investment cafe would allow us the same freedom.
What’s become clear is that you have to enjoy the process of what you do, not the outcome, because the outcome will almost always be financial, and our greatest fear from all this research is becoming hyper dependent on financial income. There are a tonne of hurdles to get through, it’s all very complicated and maybe a little scary at times, but the fun is in trying to make things work. If you’re the kind of person who likes fixing things, I know I am, you’ll probably find that you choose to fix something because you like the process, not the result. Anyone can pay someone to fix a problem, but the reward comes from enjoying the work, not the result.
We are set to launch soon, hopefully we get approved by the FSA, and then it’s all gung-ho on getting out there and selling, researching, learning and growing! I for one can’t wait. Hopefully we’ll see you out there.
The Sole Bakery is a Norwich and Norfolk based bakery ran by Mollie and Andy. Not only do we love baking, we specialise in creating bakes without any sugar, dairy or gluten in them. Our mission is to help everyone enjoy the sweeter things in life, with less of the consequences. Please get in touch if you think we can help you, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat