Indie Interview: The Orange Bakery
Liz Wilding interviews Alex Tait, one half of the father-daughter duo running The Orange Bakery in Watlington, to get the story behind their amazing loaves, delicious bakes and the power of flour. >>
What’s the story behind The Orange Bakery?
Three and a half years ago I was a teacher and Kitty was a schoolgirl. Our lives were following a pretty normal trajectory and we didn’t expect them not to. No one anticipated Kitty’s mental health collapsing, least of all her. But when it did, it hit her very hard. She had to come out of mainstream schooling, pretty much overnight, and every normal function – getting up, getting dressed, just getting through the day – was a massive challenge. Baking was just one of a whole range of strategies we tried as distraction therapy. I had baked for years but very badly. However, I’d found a method of making bread (the no knead method) that involved much less cataclysmic mess than I usually created and left you with a loaf that tasted amazing. This was the method I shared with Kitty and it was the one thing that took her out of herself, even if it was just for a few moments. She started to bake several loaves a day and soon we were giving the bread away to neighbours. To our surprise they started asking for more and soon word spread to others about our bread. We set up a subscription service, delivering first by bike and then having a cabinet outside the front door. After a busy Christmas run we tried our hand at a pop up in town and when this sold out in less than half an hour we knew we were on to something. After a few more pop ups we were approached by someone who owned a shop on the High Street where the lease had come up for sale. It seemed far too big a step, but we launched a crowd funder on a pretty speculative chance and ended up hitting our total in 48 hours. So that was the start of the shop.
What’s it been like working as a father-daughter team?
For me it is an extraordinary privilege – I get to see my daughter achieving at first hand every day. We’re actually very similar, although I don’t think we realised that before we began working together, and we have a very similar attitude to baking and business. Kitty is definitely the boss in the baking whilst I make the logistics work. It’s a good balance.
What’s a typical day like in the bakery?
We start at around 6 am. Most people think it would be earlier, but the joy of sourdough is the last stage is resting in the fridge. We bake and make at the same time so that by the time we are ready to drop everything off at the shop we already have the doughs started for the next day. We always have breakfast before we load up. Kitty tends to make most of the sweet stuff whereas I am the king of cheese. We take a break at 11 and eat one of our buns and then usually finish making and cleaning by about 1.30 pm ready for lunch and an afternoon nap (for me).
Do you have a favourite type of bread?
The Comfort Loaf with Marmite will always have a special place in our hearts. Miso and Sesame is amazing – the miso does something extraordinary in dough. I am also very fond of the Guinness granary where we soak the grains in Guinness overnight before making the loaf.
What are the greatest challenges you face?
Keeping everything sustainable. By that I mean not burning out or losing creativity. Part of it is about not working too long, but part of it is about staying inspired. Visiting other bakeries and suppliers really helps here. We still feel like we’re starting out and there are some fantastic bakers out there.
What are your favourite independent businesses in Oxfordshire?
We’d hate to miss anyone out, but off the top of my head:
We have some great local shops in Watlington who supply us and we’re very privileged that it’s all on our doorstep – Calnans Butchers, So Sustainable refill shop for spices and pulses, Britwell Farm Shop, Angela in the Undercroft.
Our flour comes from Wessex Mill in Wantage and a lot of it is grown very locally. We get our eggs from Pyrton and our milk from Lacey’s.
We love trawling the Cowley Road for ingredients – Maroc Deli and Seoul Plaza are particular favourites.
What does the future hold for The Orange Bakery?
We’re at an interesting crossroads. Instead of doing the obvious thing of expanding and opening longer we’re thinking of actually opening a bit less and inviting guest bakers to collaborate with us on the days we are open. That will hopefully free up some time to teach and also carry out some projects with local schools and the local prison.
Is there anything else you want people to know?
We have a book coming out on April 28th called Breadsong. It’s all about our story and also contains Kitty’s amazing recipes. We’re hopefully launching this on Tuesday May 3rd in Watlington with Breadfest – a village fete but with bread as the main theme.