How did you start Gail’s and what was your vision for the brand?
We started Gail’s because we thought that people should have a chance to have the same quality bread that we were serving to top chefs around London.
Were you always interested in baking and did you think you’d be involved in a bakery?
I was always interested in baking, but my original plan was to create a sustainable fish farm and take some of the pressure away from the relentless fishing done by large commercial boats. Baking, like my original plan, was about feeding people better. I come from a few generations of people feeding people well.
Having been so passionate about sourdough, how did you feel about so many people taking it up as a hobby during lockdown?
The sourdough process (using natural yeast) takes time and attention, but it is worth the effort. It was fantastic to see people choosing to spend their time at home creating something tasty, healthy and challenging. Home bread makers are our best customers because they understand the effort it takes to make good bread.
How did you react to lockdown as a brand?
We just reminded ourselves of who we were and what we do best – baking and feeding anyone who cares about what they eat. In times of crisis, we all just need to go back to our purpose… and live it.
Can you tell us what you did to support the local community during that time and why that was important to you?
One of the key reasons to stay open was to feed neighbourhoods and this includes the charities we supply every night. In the Spring, we also served up to 50,000 meals to the NHS frontline. Everyone from the chairman to the barista made deliveries to make sure we were getting to the people who needed food.
And how did you stay connected with your customers during lockdown?
We talked to them. Queues, especially when people are spaced meters apart, would seem an unlikely place to engage, but they ended up being the most useful opportunity to stay in touch with people to understand what they needed and how they were coping. If you want to be of service to people, you really need to take the time to listen to what they say. One of the silver linings of the lockdown is that we talked a lot with our customers – everyone had a bit more time and there were certainly important things to discuss.
What lessons will you take with you from the lockdown period into the future?
Have a clear vision of where you want to go and find ways to communicate it. We all get a bit lost sometime, so sharing the vision of the bakery and trusting that people will find their own individual purpose within that vision is critical to morale and building a strong understanding community
What bakery trends do you think we can expect to see?
In the long term, people want to eat things that are good and good for them. We also want to treat ourselves. I think when we let food people create what they think is amazing, they take care of us in a way that is healthy for the customer, our suppliers and our environment
What is your favourite thing to order at Gail’s?
I am loving our new sliders – egg souffle and barbecue brisket. The toasties are great – especially Reuben, but my long-term favourites are our potato & rosemary sourdough, blueberry muffins and spinach and feta rolls.
Can you tell me about your collaboration with Monty’s? Is working with local suppliers like Monty’s important to Gail’s?
We love makers who are the best in their area and Monty’s is clearly the top pastrami in London. We have always worked with local suppliers – proximity leads to better understanding and better understanding leads to more innovation and joint creative thinking. Thinking locally is one of the aspects of life that we should appreciate more.
What are your plans for Gail’s future?
Keep earning a right to grow. Our view is that you have to earn the right to grow, so every year we want to get better and push our own baking skills. Our team has loads of creativity and we want to get it out there and share what we do. Life should be a celebration of the potential of humanity to be and do better.