The Swallow Bakery is a handcrafted artisan bakery and cafe, founded by Andrew Thomas who has taken influences from Australia, America and Scandinavia.
You came from a fashion background, why did you choose to open a bakery?
I guess you could have asked the similar question to Irvine Sellar, he built a successful fashion empire and then became a property developer and built the Shard. Some people are happy at doing one thing in life. I have always been interested in new concepts, to be an early adopter of trends and to capitalise on them. I guess you could say I am a serial entrepreneur. I like developing things. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t but it makes for an interesting life…
What have been the main contributors to your brands success?
I wanted to bring back the home baked artisan bakery which had almost disappeared from the “high street” due to increasing rents and competition from the large supermarkets. I used to travel to the USA and Europe with other business interests and admired the fact that there were still individually owned bakery shops, particularly in France yet we were allowing our artisan bakeries to fade away.
Due to the recession sites became more affordable and I decided that the time was right to open The Swallow Bakery seven years ago. We then also decided to diversify into Festival catering by converting two American Airstreams and taking the bakery out on the road. We started at Glastonbury and now operate at many events.
The food is beautifully prepared and tastes amazing, how do you ensure consistency as you grow the brand?
You need to be constantly aware of trends and quality. Everyone working in the business needs to understand the standards expected and should not be shy about policing those. It is then a team responsibility to take pride in what is presented to the customer. Inevitably sometimes there will be mistakes but as long as everyone is striving for the best then that is the way forward.
What are your current plans for your company?
Having previously started and grown retail chains I am not interested in doing that in catering. There are some very good chain operators out there but as people become more discerning then they will want more individuality in the eating experience. However, good tasty food does not have to be at Michelin star prices. I feel that there are still food genres that have not yet been fully exploited and I am keen to work on these.
Where do you see the brand being in ten years time?
I don’t see it as a brand, as brand conjures up chain in my mind. I think that a collective is appropriate, a concept where you operate different offers each suited to the location and customer profile.
What future challenges and developments do you foresee in the restaurant industry?
Probably oversupply in some towns and the lack of individuality to inspire the customer. Food is such an emotive element to life, we all need to eat and drink but it is now perhaps one of the prime leisure activities, its more than just fuel for the body, its about experience and social interaction. Recently there have been some interesting and amusing concepts in catering, the blind restaurant for example and I think there was even one where everybody was naked! (I don’t know if the chef got his kit off, could be tricky frying chips!?)
The other challenge could be finding enough talented staff but we will not know how the industry will cope until the outcome of the Brexit negotiations are concluded.