After years working as a writer and journalist, Tim Smith decided he wanted to bake. With a passion for making quality real breads, he sourced a space in Malton, Yorkshire, in which to open his shop, Zuzu’s Bakery. Locavore spoke with Tim about his change of direction, broken ovens, and the challenges of sustainability for a start-up.
Update: Zuzu’s are now crowdfunding, read on for more details.
You haven’t always been a baker. What was the path that brought you to opening Zuzu’s?
It’s a long, long path involving several countries, a single-parent 1970s family where all the kids had jobs to do. A disabled daughter called Zuzu. And finally an insane decision to start a business during a period of austerity at the age of fifty. We’d need a night in a pub. Suffice to say, I finally found my passion at fifty.
Where does the name Zuzu’s come from?
That comes from my late daughter Zuzu who was born in Yorkshire in 1996 and died in Sydney Australia in 2005. Heavily disabled, she was and remains to this day an inspiration.
How did you go about learning to bake? Did you train or are you self-taught?
It began with Mum who hadn’t time to bake but showed me the basics in about 1972 when I was nine. Since then I’ve cheffed in the UK (thanks to Duncan Brown of Cafe 68 and The Angel on the Green and Winner Winner for training in highly hydrated bread), in Ireland at Mum’s hotel, and in Sydney where I learned from Chinese, Greek and Italian Australian bakers basically by turning up and asking to bug them.
You bake bread as it should be – flour, water, salt – but you also produce more complex recipes and flavours, such as oat, boiled IPA, milk, golden wholemeal, linseed, and salt bread rolls. How do you go about testing an idea?
I use my wife – she’s an historian by profession but has one of the greatest palates and most brutally honest critical functions I’ve ever encountered, including the chefs I’ve worked with – to test all my recipes. If it passes muster with Sabine then I take it to a wider group of friends. I detail the recipe on paper (temperatures, percentages, times, folds, kneads – it’s obsessive). Then I give freebie testers to customers at Zuzu’s to try. Saturday’s are freebie tester days.
From where do you source your ingredients?
I have the remarkable Dales of Malton to thank for most of that. For testers, I’ll go around Sainsbury’s or Morrissons or the local markets, or I’ll ask chefs in York such as Duncan or Josh Overington at the Cochon D’Aveugle what’s good. Or people will just recommend things. I’m a micro-baker, it’s just me, so I can be quick off the mark. This means that sometimes a bread will only be available for a week or even a day.
You’ve met some challenges during the sourcing and fit-out of the bakery. How have you overcome these?
Anything that could go wrong did. Ovens broke, the floor had to be replaced. The electrics and gas weren’t up to snuff and had to be replaced. People I was expecting to come in an work with me decided to back out leaving me on my tod – a terrifying prospect. However, with the help of a few dedicated friends, my wife Sabine, we’ve got close to where I want to be at the start of the year. The people at Dales next door have been amazing. Tom Storrar at Fitzwilliam Estate in Malton has also been incredibly helpful. Oh, I’ve also spent all of the contingency money so if I survive until March I’ll consider it a win.
You’ve just launched a crowdfunding campaign. Can you tell us more?
Zuzu’s Bakery is the result of my 54 years of real world experiences, named after my late daughter Zuzu. Parenting my very disabled little girl took us through times when I had to decide whether to spend money on healthcare or food. I was lucky, I had some support and was able to work. So, I only had to make this financial call occasionally. Many people have much less luck. Many people have to live day-to-day with such financial and decisions. This isn’t right.
Zu’ and I had a good, fun, active and happy life. Zuzu’s Bakery is fuelled by the lessons I learned through that beautiful period of parenthood and my relationship with Zu’. Lessons about love, about nutrition, and about not having much money in a world where good, nutritious food costs, are present in every aspect of the business. Zuzu’s Bakery works, and we’d like your help to continue.
We’ve been doing this successfully for some time, but now Zuzu’s has now hit a Catch-22 that means we can’t go on without essentials like an additional oven and one more staffer (there’s just me at the moment) — and we can’t afford an additional oven and staffer without being able to expa… you get the idea.
Zuzu’s is looking to raise up to (or beyond) £25,000. This will enable me to provide good bread to a wide range of pockets – including people who cannot afford nutritious food to feed themselves or their families.
You’re also going to be producing other baked goods, as well as fresh pasta. What wider plans do you have for the space?
I’ll be giving away starter doughs. I’ll be selling fresh, gorgeous bread crumbs. I’m also looking to give bread making courses. Longer term I hope to have small cafe at the front that majors on fresh sandwiches and buns made using seasonal ingredients from local farmers and producers. Nothing over a tenner including tea and coffee. In the evenings I’ve some exciting Supper Clubs planned with chefs I know in Yorkshire. 10 people, sitting around one big table eating delicious food with the guest chef telling the food story. An evening of food, drink and maybe music. You’ll have to book early and be prepared to try new things.
How does sustainability impact your ideas and your business? And what are the challenges surrounding this for a start-up?
To be honest, sustainability is an ongoing set of challenges and I’m grappling with in terms of transport, oven time, produce, and wastage. Frankly, on that last point, if anybody out there wants to partner up with bread waste I’d love to talk.
How has the food scene in Yorkshire influenced you? Do you have favourite local restaurants, suppliers, producers?
Massively. I’m a southerner by birth, but I’ve lived in Yorkshire since 1994 – with a decade in Australia. I moved back to Yorkshire though rather than relocate back down South because I love it here. In terms of my ideas, Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England was a companion while I was in Australia. Dorothy was a Yorkshire woman who wrote brilliantly.
In terms of the county itself, well there are some fantastic restaurants from Le Cochon in York, to the wonderful Hare at Scawton. We had our wedding breakfast at The Black Swan in Oldstead, and what a wonderful day that was. However, there are also people like Duncan and Emma Brown in York who have been making superb vegetarian food in outposts like Cafe 68 at Cycle Heaven in Fulford. I’ll keep mentioning Dales because their products, service and knowledge are amazing. I’d also recommend Pete Mawson at High Farndale for meat, and The Fabulous Meat and Fish Company (Welburn) for their cured meats. I simply don’t have time to get out to suppliers and producers and I should make more time. Please, please get in touch!
Finally, why do you do what you do?
Good question. Over the last few months I’ve asked this question every single day. Setting up a business, and producing consistent product to a philosophy of simple but not shortcuts, is not the cleverest decision I’ve ever made. Frankly I should have kept writing books and freelancing journalism. The problem there is that, had I done so, I would still always want the joy, therapeutic well being, and challenge of making high quality small batch breads and dealing with people who love that sort of produce.
Find Zuzu’s Bakery on Twitter here.
For their website, click here.
For the crowdfunding page, click here.