Indie of the Month – The Exploding Bakery
By Stella Nicholls
Often in life, things creep up on us so stealthily that we hardly notice they are happening –old age, for example.
The first time that I noticed The Exploding Bakery, however, was anything but a ‘stealth’ moment. As I recall, it was quite the opposite, as it erupted onto my radar, with aplomb.
My daughter and I had been walking down Queen Street, still relatively new to Exeter, when the most inviting aroma tickled our nostrils. Drawn into the bakery by the spicy mouth-watering scent of freshly baked carrot cake (and resembling cartoon characters lured in by the delicious smell) we were soon munching away on the warm ingots of pleasure. Diet? What diet?
Back then, The Exploding Bakery was a lot smaller than it is today and I was curious to find out how things have been going. Chatting to one of the owners, Oliver Coysh, while sitting in the rustic cafe, sipping on a latte, a sour cherry blondie tantalisingly planted in front of me, I remember thinking about how much I love my job.
More than a local bakery, or even a café, Oliver was soon talking about how the wholesale side of the business had grown, having recently taken on a national distributor – Bidfood who have been ordering cakes by the pallet to be transported across the country to The Cornish Bakery chain.
As baking on that scale would be impossible from the café on Queen Street, the production bakery was run from Leyton in London for a while but was recently relocated to Marsh Barton. The new premises are an impressive five and a half thousand square feet, have an office and plenty of space to grow – good news for ‘Exploding’ fans. The Exploding Bakery website also offers an online store, perfect for consumers like you and me to pop on and order our morning brownies or whatever tasty fare tickles your fancy.
Oliver maintains that he and his business partner, Tom Oxford are not really ‘business people’ but closer on the ‘spectrum’ to the creative side rather than the business side of things. They lean towards economist Schumacher’s philosophy of ‘Small is beautiful’ and the Japanese Kaizen philosophy of ‘continuous improvement’. This sees them making small tweaks in the business as often as is necessary to improve the way that things are done. Oliver used the serving of water as an example, where they have adopted the idea of letting the customer help themselves to a glass of water, rather than being served one. He said that this frees them to get on with other parts of the service that they do best, like making excellent coffee.
I remarked on how entertaining the blogs and descriptions on their website are, Oliver replied that they are still tweaking their style (another example of continuous improvement) as branding is important. Initially, their style was aggressive, like punk – ‘punk cake’. They wanted to be the ‘Brewdog’ of the cake world but have toned things down over the eight years they’ve been running, having ‘grown up’ with the business.
Curious about the name, Oliver replied that ‘Exploding’ is a verb. It is doing something – exploding onto the scene – and it also falls in nicely with the chemical reactions that occur when baking a cake, plus it’s definitely memorable. He joked that if they ever supplied an airline, they may need to open a second business and call it something a little more P.C. as the term ‘exploding’ could potentially conjure up negative images too.
Oliver and Tom are passionate about their staff, wanting them to grow within the business whether they stay or leave. They want their staff to be comfortable and confident enough to ‘fly the nest’ taking what they’ve learnt to set up their own businesses if they so desire. Oliver believes that there is so much scope and potential in the coffee industry, from coffee roasting to Barista expertise. One of their Baristas entered the UK Barista Championships, which is an interesting way of progressing in the industry. Let’s face it, people love coffee and I can’t see that changing anytime soon!
I asked Oliver if he had always been into baking, to which he replied, “Food! Surely everyone likes food?”. He went on to explain how he had worked in TV Production for about six years after graduating. The company, Denham Productions, are involved in a lot of food shows like the Rick Stein programmes and some of the crew worked on the Keith Floyd productions back in the day. Oliver remembers meeting Keith Floyd, one of his heroes, in Totnes where he owned a pub. Even though Oliver worked behind the scenes and never got to go to India, working as production assistant on programmes like Rhodes Across India, instilled in him a love of food.
When they first started the bakery, he baked and devised a lot of the recipes with Tom, who Oliver says, is a much more accomplished baker than he is. He learnt to understand flavour, texture and balance, through practice. He says, there is a magical element to baking, it’s technical – you can’t tweak it or adjust and you’re blind to what’s taking place once it goes in the oven, but that’s where the magic happens (if you’ve followed the recipe – unlike me who tends to improvise which often leads to disaster).
On the highs experienced since starting out, Oliver says that receiving three mentions in The Guardian this year has been positive. The Observer Food Monthly, which was celebrating the last seventeen years in food – from Jamie Oliver to the Great British Bake Off – gave The Exploding Bakery a mention too. They were also shortlisted in The YBFs (The Young British Foodies) awards. The most meaningful high point, however, is the day to day business of making people smile, Oliver says he loves making people happy through their food experiences.
The future definitely looks bright for Oliver and Tom, as they plan on taking on a sous-chef from a Michelin Starred restaurant next year, to help with the development of their food menu. They are looking to get in some new uniforms for staff, which include Vegan shoes called ‘Veja’. Mostly, Oliver and Tom are looking forward to taking a step back from the ‘every day’ to run the business. He says, ‘You can’t steer the ship if you’re in the engine room shovelling coal.’ Oliver says he has been shovelling coal for seven years, finally stepping out so that he can be on the bridge, steering the ship in the right direction. With cakes and coffee as delicious as theirs, they are definitely on the right track (or should that be shipping lane?)!
You can visit The Exploding Bakery at: 1 & 2 The Crescent Queen Street, or pop online.