Award-winning bakery The Daily Apron enjoys the sweet taste of success
Award wins at the end of 2022 were the icing on the cake for bakery owners, Katrina Collins and Cathy Stevenson as they also marked the first anniversary of the opening of The Daily Apron.
Named the Bakery of the Year at last year’s Neighbourhood Retailer Awards, co-owner Katrina said it was wonderful recognition for their hard work and meant all those early starts were worthwhile.
However, this was not Katrina and wife Cathy’s first foray into the catering business, as they have owned and run an 80-seat café in Lisburn for 11 years.
“Our café is based inside Smyth Patterson’s department store on the first floor. We were previously called Arora but rebranded just before lockdown to The Daily Apron,” said Katrina.
“We opened our artisan bakery in Halloween 2021 and our ethos has always been ‘everything from scratch’. We were making everything ourselves for the café, so it was a natural transition to open the bakery.
“We could make it cheaper by getting the goods in from other suppliers, but we are 100% committed to us making things and we want to expand the palettes of our customers.”
Cathy has always had an interest in baking, with a love for making bread and sourdough in particular.
“The offering in Lisburn didn’t have anything like that, or that particular type of bake, and that was why we decided to open the bakery,” explained Katrina.
“The intention was that it would look like a boutique; we have a bread wall and that is quite striking. It is an open bakery where you can see what is happening and watch everything being made.
“We have lots of people coming in to ask Cathy about her baking and for some tips, how to make a good ‘starter dough’ and so on. Our motto is ‘cake, kindness and community’ and we are big believers in helping others where we can.”
Following their Neighbourhood Retailer Award win, the duo discovered they had won the gold award for Cathy’s plain sourdough at the UK World Bread Awards.
“We couriered the breads to London overnight for the judging. We were the only Northern Ireland company to win gold in this award category, so we were absolutely delighted.
“These award wins meant all those early starts – especially for Cathy, starting at 2am – were worthwhile. All the individual effort we put in, it’s not mass-produced, we really believe in what we do and we really love what we do.
“We want to grow people’s interest in real bread and the real product.”
Katrina is a psychologist but is also the main decorator in the bakery, as well as working in the café. Her and Cathy head an all-female team of 15 staff, who she describes as “alpha females!”
“The girls range in age from 15 to 56 and we pride ourselves on having a very nurturing environment. We feel that one of our goals is to nurture and train and we feel a real duty of care to our girls. They would say the same thing and that is wonderful to hear.
‘Our motto is ‘cake, kindness and community’ and we are big believers in helping others where we can’
“We have people working with us from they were 15 years old and Julie, our manager, has been with us for 20 years.
“We have sent people on apprenticeships and they have come back to work with us, which is wonderful. We have seen potential in our young staff and the reward is seeing them grow and learn. It’s very rewarding for us that they come back and work for us.”
In their first year in business with the bakery, Katrina said they have received “lots of support from the community” and have established many new friendships.
“I think things come to you from how you behave and we got lots of support and a lot of positivity from the community. I know people can be negative about town centres, but so many people are grateful that we took this venture to Lisburn.
“We have a very strong, core customer base and that is growing. One of the things we were surprised about was that 70-80% of our clientele are from other countries. This is bread that reminds them of home, so we would have a lot of Portuguese and Eastern European customers, and we have developed a lot of friendships and connections there.”
While a Lisburn bakery, The Daily Apron’s reach is going further afield with the development of their wholesale market. They are currently supplying breads, afternoon teas, scones and sourdough to other cafés in Lisburn, Hillsborough and even as far as Dungannon. Katrina said this success has come from their commitment to attending local farmers’ markets.
“Farmers’ markets have really taken off for us and they are the most financially viable as well. It is hard work, but it brings in the volume of what we sell and the customers.
“We have had people travel to us because they have seen us at a market and they come to try out more of our products. There is a café in Dungannon which we now supply to and that came from us selling at a market there.”
‘We have seen potential in our young staff and the reward is seeing them grow and learn. It’s very rewarding for us that they come back and work for us’
Inevitably there are challenges in the industry, particularly with rising foods costs and notably the rapid increase in the cost of ingredients.
“It’s definitely hard. We have looked to a different supplier and buying in bigger quantities. Andrews Ingredients have been a great partner for us and we have a good relationship with them.
“We have had to put up our prices once. We have to look at the balance of what people will pay and the quality. We are very frugal in how we do things and are constantly looking at efficiencies.
“We have seen some changes, like sunflower and vegetable oil, they had gone up last year, but we got a letter recently to say that the prices of those items are coming down.
“With the economy as it is, I think there is a real return to thinking ‘if we are going to treat ourselves, it needs to be a good treat, we need it to be good quality’. People are telling me that they want to make sure it’s good bread and they are avoiding the bigger chains if they can.
“We can really see that at the markets. People are choosing to come in the wind and rain to select our products and support us. There is always a desire there for fresh-baked, good-quality products.”
Another challenge bakers face today is the increase of and awareness around allergies and clean and healthy eating. While baked goods aren’t renowned for being the healthy option, Katrina said they are working continuously to provide as many options for their customers as possible.
“I did a dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free cake for a wedding last year, which was interesting! We do cater for all this and people just have to choose what suits them, but we certainly do try to accommodate everyone.
“We are in a kitchen containing gluten in the café, so our free-from baking is done in the other kitchen. We do a seeded gluten-free loaf, granola bars and walnut and banana muffins. We do ask our customers to let us know their allergens.
“We do have a vegan menu in the café and we have vegan bakes. Even something simple like alternative milks for coffee, we have built up a bit of a reputation for giving people that choice.
“It is challenging within the bakery and getting it all to work. Cathy is really accommodating and willing to try, but there are some things that are difficult to bind together, but overall we feel we do quite well.”
While wanting to continue and increase the wholesale side of the business, Katrina said they have to give careful consideration to any future expansion.
“For us, the difficulty is that we are already at capacity inside, as it’s a small base. The potential is there, but we are limited by our space. We would need another production unit and keep the bakery as the front, but it’s not something we have made a firm decision on.
‘The greatest reward is when we are having that conversation with a customer and they are smiling and happy and wanting to get your product’
“Cathy is beginning to do sourdough masterclasses in the bakery and has also been invited out to people’s homes and different organisations to do her masterclasses, so that’s an exciting development. We actually have people coming over from Scotland for a masterclass!
“It’s important that we don’t dilute and don’t get larger than we can manage, but looking forward, we would like to grow the retail side of things and that if people think of sourdough in this area, that it is synonymous with us.”
Katrina describes their award wins as “lovely” and said they “really help assure you that you are going in the right direction”, however she said the real measure of success is something more down-to-earth for them.
“For Cathy and myself, the greatest reward is when we are having that conversation with a customer and they are smiling and happy and wanting to get your product. The support they give you, for us that day-to-day exchange and relationship is the biggest reward and we thrive on that.”
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