A dad-of-two has transformed his breadmaking hobby into Portrush’s newest artisan bakery, Flat & Brown Bakehouse, thanks to help from the Go For It programme in association with Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council.
The Go For It Programme is part funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Investment for Growth and Jobs Northern Ireland (2014-2020) programme.
Yorkshire-born Karl Simmonds (33) has been baking sourdough bread as a hobby for years, but raised it to a whole new level when he was furloughed from his job as general manager of Portrush Yacht Club last year.
Karl, who lives in Portrush with his family, says: “It was something I had been doing for quite a while anyway. I originally got into breadmaking when I had just left the wine industry and I did a course. It stuck with me from then and I got more into baking as a result of that.
“It was just a hobby, but it was only when we got to lockdown last March and I was furloughed that it took off. Instead of making one loaf for my family, I started making two and then three, and people wanted to buy it, and then more and more orders started coming in.”
At first, he was just making sourdough with whatever ingredients he could find: “I look back on it now and it kind of makes me cringe a little bit!.”, but as demand increased, he began to invest in more equipment, experiment with flours and increase his product range.
“It started with a handful of loaves which people collected on a Saturday and it went from there. Then once a week, as I got more comfortable with it, I added another product.
“I now have a range of sourdough bread including white country sourdough, wholemeal sourdough, sourdough focaccia – this week it’s sea salt, rosemary and thyme flavours – and I do a special every week, such as stout sourdough using one of the stouts from Lacada brewery. I also offer demi baguettes and pizza kits – those are my core products.”
When he started thinking in earnest about building a business, Karl applied to the Go For It programme for support.
The Go for It programme is delivered free of charge by a team of experienced business mentors across all 11 council areas of Northern Ireland. It provides expert advice and help with developing a robust business plan to help turn ideas into a commercial enterprise.
“Through the scheme, I got a business plan and I was able to realise what I was doing – the money I needed for the equipment, what profit I could make,” he says.
Karl says his Go For It business advisor Jackie Smyth pushed him hard with a series of tough questions and it took them around a month to put together the business plan.
“They ask what you want to achieve, to break down your costs, how much you’re selling it for. It made me focus on thinking about whether I want to run a business,” he says.
“She helped me put a business plan together and that was the turning point – it gave me a push to set up a proper business rather than selling bread to neighbours and friends. It was an incentive to carry on and expand.”
At present, Karl is baking out of the household kitchen but is planning to move operations into a converted garage.
Already, one cafe is stocking his bread and two more are expected to follow suit shortly.
“Going forward, I’d like to expand my range. I’m waiting for some equipment and then I’ll be able to offer pizza and pastries,” he says.
“I think things will start to expand quite quickly from then on.”
The Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Alderman Mark Fielding, said: “The Go For It Programme, delivered by Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, provides new entrepreneurs with accessible, free and tailored support in the start-up stage of their business in areas such as financial and business planning, and sales and marketing to help get their business up and running.
“I wish Karl every continued success in developing and growing his enterprise and encourage anyone thinking about starting their own business to get in touch with the Go For It Programme!”
Jackie Smyth, Business Advisor at Enterprise Causeway said: “Karl wanted to turn his breadmaking hobby into a business after being inundated with orders, so when he contacted the Go For It Programme, we were able to help offer him the advice and support he needed to turn his amazing baking skills into a sustainable business.
“We worked with him to develop a business plan, defining his product offering, sales strategy, sourcing of ingredients and packaging, and a two-year financial forecast. This gave him the confidence and know-how to go on and build a business that is renowned locally for its amazing range of sourdough breads and homemade pizza kits. I would recommend anyone to give his products a try, they are truly delicious.”