Real Bread Week: 10 minutes with Birgit Gunz

The  Staff Canteen
This week is Real Bread Week and to celebrate that we’ve spoken to baker Birgit Gunz, she came to the UK in the eighties as an interdealer broker and has since opened Frankonia The Breadhouse. She was shocked at the lack of bread available in the city and decided to do something about it, her small bakery has since grown and now supplies some of London’s top hotels and restaurants. Picture 001The Real Bread Campaign is part of the food and farming charity Sustain. It was launched in 2009 and Real Bread Week is the annual celebration of real bread and its makers. The main aim of the week is to share the benefits of baking real bread at home and of buying it from a local, independent bakery. Birgit Gunz, owner of Frankonia The Breadhouse is a champion of real bread. Originally from Bavaria in Germany she has always had a passion for cooking and baking from an early age. “It was very much a family thing in that my mother and both of my grandmothers were the most amazing home bakers and taught me from very young,” explained Birgit. “My mother also taught cooking and baking at a local school. Whenever possible I baked with my grandmothers and my mother. Christmas and birthdays especially were always a major bake fest!” When her job as an interdealer broker brought her to London in the mid-eighties, she was shocked when confronted with the bread or the lack of it. Ever since then she wanted to start her own bakery. She said: “Wherever I looked was just white bread. It all felt like a sponge and all seemed to be the same dough. I was used to a much wider selection encompassing sourdoughs and seeded breads, which just wasn’t readily available in the mid-eighties.” She leased a shop in Wimbledon Village and opened the first Frankonia bakery shop serving the people of Wimbledon with a selection of mouth-watering cakes, sourdoughs and rye breads. In addition to daily shop business, local restaurants and catering companies requested the bread for their businesses.Picture 008 “I hadn’t slept in two days, getting the shop ready to open,” said Birgit. “I couldn’t have been more elevated. I was on such a high. All that planning had finally come to fruition. My mother used to bless every loaf by marking a cross at the bottom of it before she cut it and I did the same to the first loaf which we sold.” So quickly did the wholesale demand grow that Birgit took the decision to let the shop and the retail side go so she could concentrate exclusively on the wholesale market. She moved to a large industrial unit and created a bakery there that could turn out the volume required for hotels and restaurants, while still keeping the breads and pastries hand-made and artisan. She said: “Being a craft bakery, we have kept our authenticity and we maintain our quality by making sure we have a highly skilled team of bakers who share my passion and values about quality and standards. One just has to be very fussy about who gets hired and who doesn’t. It isn’t always easy finding the right people but we always get there in the end.” She added: “I did always envision selling our bread to not just the immediate neighbourhood but to a wider audience. Selling it to the catering world was a nice way to achieve that and also strengthened the brand.” During the initial growth of the business Birgit was selling the bread to new customers in the morning, taking orders from existing customers in the afternoon, making the bread in the evening alongside her small team of bakers and delivering the bread in the very early hours of the following morning before starting the process again the next day. Picture 002Since the move to that unit in Tolworth she has managed to grow the business year on year to a stage where she now employs 27 full time staff, which includes thirteen bakers, pastry chefs, office staff, a fleet of vans, drivers and a business that turns out over 3.5 million pieces a year to a client list that includes some of the greatest brand names in the hospitality world. “We supply the Goring, Selfridges, Harrods, The House of Lords, The Ritz, to name but a few,” said Birgit. “We have great relationships with our clients and tend to retain them.” But does she still have time to bake? After all it was her passion for making bread which the brand was born out of. She said: “Our baking space has grown from 350sq ft. to 4500sq ft. so I don’t think you can quite call that small and I am busy flying about between customers, but I do make time to bake if not always at the bakery I certainly make up for it at home over the weekends.” It’s been 17 years since she opened the first bakery, she wanted to see the choice and standard of baked good s improved and the expansion of her business certainly seems to suggest she has achieved that. She said: “The food revolution as I call it that started in the nineties has done wonders for us and without a shadow of a doubt things have improved tremendously. The choice today is fantastic and our craft has had a new lease of life. “It is important that chefs understand the process and what is involved. This will ensure a good working relationship with the baker that supplies them but otherwise I think they should focus on cooking all the wonderful things they cook. Baking and cooking are two completely different crafts and should be kept separate in my opinion.”
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th May 2015

Real Bread Week: 10 minutes with Birgit Gunz