A Lichfield bakery with a difference is causing a stir on the city’s foodie scene, and with one simple aim – to make brilliant bread. Amy Norbury discovers more
It’s 1am and the streets of Lichfield’s picturesque centre are quieting down as the last of the late night revellers seek out their taxis and head home to bed. With the bustling bars and restaurants now closed, a hush descends and it’s only the glow of the moonlight and street lamps which illuminate the city.
For Nathan Carter, however, the working day is only just beginning. Come morning, the 28-year-old baker will be ready for business as punters line up outside his Bore St Bakery, ready to collect their daily loaves and morning pastry treats. But first, there’s a whole night of work ahead.
“The bread is long fermentation, as artisan bread is, so it’s all made the night before,” explains Nathan. “I start at 1am and work right through until the shop opens at 9am, when I then go out front and start selling.
“On a Friday night getting ready for Saturday it’s pretty miserable because I have to walk down Bird Street past all the bars where people are having a good time, and I’m off to start a long shift all by myself!
“It’s just me; I bake, I sell, sometimes with help in the shop from my girlfriend Rosie, but it’s all good fun. And people want to know how everything’s made, what’s in the bread, and they like that it’s been made on site and any questions I can answer because I’ve done it.”
And when he closes each day – often some 14 hours later – it doesn’t stop there; the next step is a further three hours of prep to get ready for the next night’s shift.
Bore St Bakery opened at the start of September and in two short months has become a word-of-mouth hit on Lichfield’s growing independent food scene.
“Things were happening where it made sense for me to set up on my own, and Lichfield felt like it had a bit of a gap for a bakery so I thought I’d give it a go,” explains Nathan, who had been working in a bakery in Birmingham for the past three-and-a-half years.
“I’m really passionate about bread; it’s what I love to do, and people within Lichfield really wanted to help, which was nice.”
Originally from Bridgnorth, in Shropshire, Nathan studied geography and town planning at university in Birmingham – a far cry from his role in the bakery kitchen today.
“I was in Birmingham doing a soulless graduate job,” explains Nathan. “I’ve always been into food and fine dining, that side of things, and I just decided it was time for a change.”
So he got a job in a wholesale bakery which supplied bread to several Michelin-starred restaurants and cafes around the Birmingham area, and started learning a whole new trade from scratch, throwing himself in at the deep end.
“I loved it; it was something different and there’s something great about being creative and having an end product to sell,” says Nathan. “And I think there’s a certain freedom to learning as you go along which is really nice. I learned from a guy who was self-taught, and I’m kind of self-taught too; there’s not a rigid structure that way. I can understand different processes and do things in a different way, and as long as the product turns out the way I want it’s fine.
“ I’m putting my heart and soul into making this bread, but when people come in and say it’s the best bread they’ve ever tasted or that it’s a lovely loaf or it looks nice, it’s so rewarding.”
After the hectic Saturday stint, Nathan closes the bakery on Sundays and Mondays to allow himself time to regroup.
“It does mean I can have some kind of social life, even if I’m pretty much like a zombie for most of it,” he laughs. “Unless you’re really passionate about what you’re doing, this kind of lifestyle just doesn’t work. You’ve got to want to put the hours in.”
When you step inside Bore St Bakery, it’s not what you might expect from a traditional bakery. A huge wooden desk where Nathan wraps up his wares ready for customers dominates the shop, while the rest of the decor is quirky and eclectic. Only the window shelves, piled high with delicious-looking baked goods, and the unmistakeable scent of bread in the air gives the game away.
“The whole point of this place is that I didn’t want it to look like a bakery, I didn’t want it to look traditional,” says Nathan. “I wanted to do something a bit different. I picked up the Persian rug from a house clearance for about £25, and the desk is my statement piece from Peppermill Antiques.”
A velvet curtain separates the shop from Nathan’s work space, while quirky lamps and fresh flowers adorn the surfaces.
Nathan’s signature bake is his white sourdough loaf, which he jokingly calls the ‘Wild Bore’ loaf, in a nod to the bakery’s Bore Street location.
“Around 75 per cent of my products are sourdough-based, which is long fermentation. Tomorrow’s bread is in the retarder tonight so it gets a good 18 hours of bulk fermentation.
“I’ve got granary ones and walnut ones, and the other day I had a damson one because I had a glut of damsons,” he says. “I’m trying to use seasonal stuff; I know it’s bang on trend but it just makes sense. If I’ve got a glut of stuff I’ll use it, if people give me stuff I’ll use it. It also helps me to be creative so I’m not getting stagnated.”
Every Saturday also brings a speciality loaf using creative flavours and seasonal inspiration; when we chat, Nathan is preparing a delicious-sounding carrot and anise concoction.
“Obviously Saturday is the busiest day, so changing things up helps to keep me interested and keeps the customers interested,” says Nathan. “They see the same things every day, and a lot of people will come in and just want a white tin loaf, but it’s nice to be able to give them something different.
“And being my own boss means that if I fancy something I can put it on. I’ve been doing lardy cake, which is crazy old-school and no-one really does it any more, but I was brought up with it and I like it so I do it. I’d say about 90 per cent of people who buy it are over 65 but there’s always space for old-school stuff.
“Being such a new business it means testing the waters, seeing what people really like and what makes the most sense given the time I’ve got. It’s all about mixing it up a bit; I’ve got my staples but everything else is a flexible feast. I want to keep things interesting because being on my own, for nine hours a day in a little cabin in the middle of Lichfield, can get a bit crazy.”
As well as his signature loaves, Nathan loves to experiment with treats for his sweet-toothed customers.
“The patisserie is a smaller side, but the sweet stuff flies out in the mornings,” says Nathan. “I’m doing Swedish bullar-style chocolate and cinnamon knots, Chelsea buns and seasonal sorts of things.
“It was mainly going to be just bread to start with, but the appetite for sweet stuff is immense. I doubled what I did last Saturday and everything sweet was still gone by 9.30am. A lot of time people pop in for a loaf and pick up something sweet too. I’m looking at croissants and Danish pastries too, but it’s so time-consuming and being a one-man band stretching myself to capacity already there’s only so much I can take on.”
A particular favourite among Nathan’s customers has been his glorious egg custard tarts, with no fewer than 500 of the picture-perfect pastries flying of the shelves in the bakery’s first five weeks. But you need to be quick; the sweet treats, like the loaves, don’t hang around for long. More often than not, by early afternoon customers will be greeted with a sign, scribbled on a brown paper bag and stuck to the door, proclaiming that the day’s bakes are all gone.
“I’m yet to have a day where I haven’t sold out, which is lovely, and I’m yet to work past 2pm, which is lovely,” says Nathan. “I couldn’t have expected it when I started.
“Having anything wasted would really bug me though. People come to me and ask me to bake more; they’re used to the culture of Tesco where it’s always there and when they close they just bin the leftovers and couldn’t care less. But I’ve put all my effort, and heart and soul into that bread, so having to throw it away would kill me. The scraps and odd and ends from trials which haven’t turned out right get taken to a local farmer for the pigs, but that’s it.
“People are really getting on board with the concept; I can only make what I can make and when it’s gone, it’s gone. If you want to treat yourself on a Saturday then come early doors because last Saturday we have a queue of about 15 people stretching all along the window at 9am and we didn’t stop until about 10.30am.
“I don’t want to change my business model so that we always have everything available; you go to any good restaurant on a Saturday at 8pm and you can’t expect to get a table, you have to book. And it’s the same here.”
Nathan is continually experimenting with new flavours and new ideas, as well as perfecting and adding twists to old favourites
“It’s just me, I like how things are done and I’m my own biggest critic,” says Nathan. “I taste and test everything myself; if I’m not happy with the structure of breads then hydrations will be changed, different flours will be used, everything is flexible. It’s the joy and the massive frustration of being a baker, because one day to the next things can over-prove or under-prove. Sometimes the sourdoughs will jump up in two hours because it’s warm and they prove in the right time, and sometimes they can take four and they’re just coming out as customers arrive because they’re on a go-slow; you have to just judge it and juggle everything.
“I wouldn’t ever want to give out products that I’m not happy with to customers.”
Bore St Bakery has already been taken to the heart of the city’s independent food scene, with local businesses lining up to give a helping hand.
“There’s a really nice foodie scene in Lichfield now, with the food festival and lots of independents popping up,” says Nathan. “From local businesses, I’ve had nothing but support.
“James at Pom’s Kitchen came to me before I even opened and he’s embraced the products. It’s a partnership which works really well because our brands work well together; he’s a fantastic independent restaurant and he supports other independents too. He couldn’t get much more local either, his chefs walk over each morning to collect their bread!”
Nathan also supplies luxury Lichfield bed and breakfast St John’s House with bread, and has just started working with Swinfen Hall to supply a range of breads and sweet treats.
As the festive season rolls around, Nathan is planning some European-inspired treats to whet the appetites of his loyal customers.
“I’ve got a Polish sister-in-law so I’m currently working my way through her Christmas recipes, spiced breads and gingerbreads, that sort of thing. There’s also the Christmas food festival so I’m doing something special for that too. There will be festive bakes, but nothing traditional so don’t expect a mince pie – unless I’ve gone mad and it’s a mince pie sourdough!”
And while Nathan’s promising start in business looks certain to secure a successful future, there are no grand plans for baking domination.
“I’d never planned further ahead than paying that first bill and staying afloat,” he admits
“Bore St Bakery is me, it’s this building, it’s people knowing that I’ve made everything I sell. It’s being able to make smaller loaves next week because so many people have asked me to do smaller loaves that I’ve gone out to buy smaller loaf tins. It’s being able to listen to my customers and give them what they want.
“I’m aspirational to an extent but I’m not here for the money, I’m not here for Bore St mark two. I just want to make good bread.”
For more information visit Nathan’s bakery on Bore Street, Lichfield, Tuesday to Saturday from 9am until 3pm – or until he’s sold out, whichever comes first. You can also visit www.borestbakery.co.uk or find Bore St Bakery on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.