How much fun can you have running an artisan bakery business? Dean Bailey heads to PureKnead, Whitley Bay to find out…
Each person’s route into the food business is different. Take Paula Watson and Robynne van Sweeden. Paula, who opened the first PureKnead across the road from the café/bakery’s current premises three years ago, previously worked in events, magazines and a bank, and has no formal baking or pâtisserie training. She does have a fine art degree though, which helps with the stunning bespoke cakes PureKnead is known for.
South African-born Robynne moved to the North East five years ago to study pâtisserie at Newcastle College. The chance to work with Paula when she opened the first shop was too good to miss and Robynne’s been here since.
It’s easy to gauge their passion. Spend an hour or two in the café/bakery and the conversation and laughter between the two of them, their team and the customers who drop by to buy bread or relax with coffee and cake never really stops.
Paula’s passion for food, which goes back to running home from school at lunchtime for hot meals and milky puds through to building a vast collection of cookbooks, led her to launch PureKnead. “I could certainly never work in a bank again!” she says of this labour of love.
Some 170 loaves of bread go out of the shop every Saturday, and orders consistently flow for PureKnead’s breathtakingly beautiful bespoke cakes. Cakes, scones, cheesy dog biscuits and more are made here, while star baker Ash Lambert makes the sublime breads which have brought this place renown off-site.
The team feed off one another’s passion, says Robynne, going on to list recent new developments which include a very trendy blue sourdough. “You’ve got to have passion,” adds Paula. “It reflects in your product. People pick up on it and become passionate about it too. Business is bloody hard; it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve done some awful jobs. But it’s also incredibly rewarding, as long as you don’t mind hard graft.”
In the middle of Park View, PureKnead is in at the centre of Whitley Bay’s foodie growth. Papa Ganoush is just down the road, Nicholson’s butchers shop is across the road, and a there are a couple of micro pubs and a micro-brewery around the corner. It’s a long way from the greasy spoons and weekend drinking destination Whitley Bay used to be.
Paula is encouraged by the growth in popularity of artisan goods. “People are moving away from artificial products and back to the idea of doing something from raw ingredients. It’s about finding flavours and skills which have been lost in favour of fast, cheap food. People are searching for artisan products and good produce and it’s driving a really good food scene in Whitley Bay.
“We’re really proud to be part of that community. People come in to see us, have a chat and grab some bread just like they did years ago. It’s not just a transaction, it’s being part of something.”
It’s a busy, full-on job running a bakery. Paula and Robynne start early and they’re still here into the evening six days a week, but they wouldn’t trade it.
“I’ve had some good jobs in the past, working with some great people, but I love this,” adds Paula. “We have a good laugh as a team and I really enjoy coming in every day. It never gets dull – there’s always something new to try tomorrow.”