Local Artisan Bread & Patisserie

Monthly archive for June 2014

Life & death – RIP Neil Angear, Night baker at Rex

Life & death – RIP Neil Angear, Night baker at Rex

This week’s blog is not about baking, new products  or the trials and tribulations of setting up Rex Bakery Ltd.

Neil AngearInstead this blog will address the subject of life & death.  We are shocked and saddened to have just lost a key employee and friend, Neil Angear, who passed away suddenly over the weekend.  I want to share the little of his life that I experienced and what I learned of the man, over the five months I knew Neil .

When we met in February, he had been 3 years out of work, a casualty of the economic downturn. A man approaching 50, dispensed with because he was a bit too resistant to change, too expensive & too old for the modern highly mechanised fast bakery world.

I knew I had found a diamond after just a couple of hours with him.  He travelled from Oxhey that night , the other side of Watford, to come bake in my garage at 1am one cold February night.  As he was an epileptic  he had to travel by public transport & came 2 hours early and sat in the Sugar Loaves Pub, drinking water,  until they kicked him out, just so he wouldn’t be late.  He sat on my doorstep for an hour in the cold, not wanting to wake me up.

I knew straight away I had met somebody who could help me build Rex Bakery.  Clearly a selfless and considerate man, but Neil also had the experience, know-how & drive to be a key part of my team.

You have to love being a baker.

Just consider the nocturnal existence – going to bed at 5pm to start work at 1am. It affects everything around you. Your family & friends never see you & when they do on a Saturday, you are largely trying to recover from the exertions and lack of sleep from the week before.  You need total commitment – it’s much easier not to do it

It is also a very physical job,  lifting 25kg sacks endlessly, cutting & manipulating doughs of significant weight, shuttling all the bread doughs in and out of ovens by hand on a wooden board and of course the tremendous heat, four very large ovens at 250c, some 50cm from you for most of the time you are working.

Neil in Rex BakeryIt is very hard existence and something most of us who have had a professional working life have never experienced. Real graft, making things, trying to get them better every day, trying to adjust for the ever changing vagaries of how a dough is reacting to that particular day’s environment. Trying to get the finish right, to get all the breads through the ovens at the right moment, so nothing is over or under proved.

It is demanding ,very hard work back there in the bakery.  It is a true skill, a labour of love, one that is largely undervalued in our modern world and Neil embraced that life.

I think baking  had made things difficult in his past, being a contributing factor in the end of his marriage, as had his passion for Chelsea FC.

Until he lost his job, Neil had long been a season ticket holder, a regular supporter both home and away, in Britain and Europe.  He felt a deep affinity with Chelsea FC and the band of brothers he followed with Stamford Bridge . He was a true supporter, not an armchair fan like me.  Just last week, he caught me a little by surprise with his genuine rage over the latest Luis Suarez biting incident, and I realised it really boiled down to the last attack by Suarez on a Chelsea player, a season or so ago. He really felt that Chelsea were his family.

I know also that Neil loved his real family deeply as well, who were all from North London and he kept in weekly contact with them all.  Our sincere sympathies are with them at this very sad time.

For Caroline & me, Neil was the backbone of our new business and we relied on him greatly.  He was fun to work with & gently ribbed me & our team, which made the bakery a happy place to work.

I will miss him a great deal and I cannot believe this has happened. We were celebrating his 50th birthday only a few weeks ago so how can this be?

Neil, you are sorely missed, rest in peace.

 

Happy Birthday Rex! 3 big steps in the last year

At Little Chalfont Village Day 2104, we couldn’t help but reflect on “this time last year

Whilst Rex Artisan Bakery has been open at No. 4 Chenies Parade for 2 months, we actually launched at 2013 Little Chalfont Village Day about 1 year ago!

village day, rex bakery pop up

1. Village Day 2013 launch

Having trained, apprenticed & practised for ages beforehand, the Rex Baker worked tirelessly for days with hardly any sleep, in preparation for the “public launch” of Rex.  There were some disasters for sure :

  • Power.  The surge in our home working bakery usage caused an outage during the bake, and we had to emergency contact our expert electrician & good friend Matt to save the day (or in fact night…)
  • Equipment. Our stone trays to get the right level of heat & browning couldn’t cope & cracked!
  • Late start.  with >100 loaves & dizzying array of buns, tarts, viennoiserie to prepare & transfer, the Rex Baker had barely set up the marquee & table by 12 Noon, the start.  We squeezed filled trays into a 2 seater car as well as the family estate car to make the 1/2 mile trip, but managed to leave price tags, cash float, bags at home… and we had customers from the get go!
  • Weather. The heavens opened & there was so much rain that Villagers got drenched unless they hid under our marquee – which of course itself was beginning to leak.

So especially once the rain came pouring down on the morning of this year’s Village Day, we were spirited back to a year ago!

We virtually sold out that day a year ago, and although it was so so hard, we had done it!!

2. Rex bakery weekly pop-up

The amazing response from the Village encouraged us to start a weekly Rex  pop-up from then on, baking to order with the encouragement of the wonderful community and always providing a few extras for sale.  We started this regular blog, a “Friends of Rex Bakery” email list (please join us here) and a Facebook page.  All of this provided us with great insight as to what everyone wanted from Rex, and a way to try lots & lots of new products.  Some of these have become Rex signature products as a result of incredibly useful feedback.  We wouldn’t have got so far in the past year without:

  • Little Chalfont Primary School.  As school parents ourselves, the support of parents & staff across all the classes has been a huge help.  We like to donate gift boxes & freebies for the School fundraising events in Thanks 🙂
  • Sausage roll perfection. Rex sausage rolls were inspired by the Rex Baker’s own mum’s recipe and have always been super-popular with our Friends.  Today we sometimes feel like a sausage roll factory, making literally hundreds of them!  In the early days we did spend an inordinate amount of time getting them just right
  • Pam from Eat Inn.  Right from the beginning Pam kindly supported us popping up outside her old cafe, which was perfect for starting to raise our profile in the village and a handy place for folks to stop & collect their orders.  That was great during the summer & early autumn months.
  • Sourdough rotation.  To accompany regular Rex Sourdough, we began to experiment with, introduce & rotate new specialty sourdoughs ever since Sourdough September.  Now our sourdoughs outsell our tinned breads, and people are travelling from far & wide to buy hand-made delicious sourdough like our Raisin & Rosemary loaf.
  • Rex Bakery orders, Rex bagsMerc Estate car Delivery. Each Saturday the Rex Baker’s wife would load up the ginormous family car boot with trays piled high to deliver some orders to local Friends’ homes followed by setting up the pop-up.  This worked brilliantly on Christmas Eve to deliver piles of festive Stollens, like playing Mrs Santa!
  • Westwood Park Football Club.  The Rex Baker was an U7 coach before 3am Saturday bakes took over, and the support of the footballers & parents from our fantastic local club has been really important.  We regularly popped up in the car park through autumn & winter to deliver orders & sell vast quantities of iced pain au raisin to hungry players!
  • Malt loaf etc experimentation.  It took the Rex Baker 10 versions before he had perfected a hand-made, organic & preservative-free version of a Soreen Malt Loaf.  There was also variation with other base products to get to Eccles Cakes, Lemon Fudge Streusel Bar etc.  It was fantastic to see response to these at the weekly Pop-up!

So the many months’ real experience gained prior to opening  at No. 4 Chenies Parade were very important for laying the foundations to Rex Bakery today.

3. Reality of the shop

It took a while to find precisely the right location & size for shop AND bakery in Little Chalfont.
Rex Bakery, window from shop into bakeryIt then took a while to convince the previous owners to sell to us as rents were exorbitant.
And an age to process a very complex commercial transaction.
Finally it took really forever to fit out the buildings, power, equipment, decor, find staff…..  Again we couldn’t have got there without a tremendous amount of help from everyone who helped us practically & emotionally in that time, you know who you all are 🙂

At last we opened our doors on the last Saturday in March and have been growing our profile ever since, with new Friends coming because they heard about:

  • the new bakery in Little Chalfont and wanted to give us a try
  • delicious hand-made bread from friends, neighbours, colleagues word-of-mouth and wanted to try it for themselves
  • sourdoughs & rye breads & ciabattas – hard to source hand-made locally
  • our Monmouth coffee, probably the oldest artisan coffee house & thought of as “the best artisan coffee in London”

Given the “Available” sign 1st went up on Village Day 2013 at No. 4 Chenies Parade, it took 40 weeks until opening, the same gestation as a baby!!  And what a journey we have been on.

Rex birthday cakeTo mark it (oh, and the Rex Baker’s actual birthday ironically) our lovely friend of Rex Bakery Tara Botwright made this fabulous cake!   If you need celebration cakes for your birthday we strongly recommend her amazing tasting & looking cakes so do get in contact with her here or by calling  Tara on 07568 312165