In order to advance, you need to give a nod to the past…
I grew up in the town of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, on the tip of the Furness peninsula. If you go past it, you end up in the Irish Sea on your way to Belfast via the Isle of Man. Shipbuilding was the goal of most aspiring school leavers, so I had to arm wrestle the careers officer in order to persuade him that all I wanted to do was cook. I dreamt of being a chef, of travelling the world and escaping the blaring yard horn that sounded each time the workers crept in and out of the yard. Running like ants, they would jump on their bikes and pedal like hell to escape and get home to their wives, sweethearts and families… or maybe just the pub.
Although I was looking to escape, don’t think I didn’t love Barrow – I did. I was charmed by its individuality, beaches, history, interesting people and intoxicated by the rich variation of people that lived there. Although I was born in Germany, I have always been proud to call myself a “Barrovian” – I just never really fitted in.
In 1976, when I was nine years old, we regularly went for long summer bike rides along the beautiful coast road to Ulverston. It was so hot that year that my friends and I would often knock on people’s doors for a glass of water where they would happily oblige. I remember stopping at a little farm and asking the farmer for some water – where of course he happily obliged. He was wizened, his hands looked like cauliflowers, and he smelled strongly of ripe horse chestnuts. He looked extremely worldly and wise. As I drank, he asked me casually “What do you want to do?’’ I didn’t understand the question. He said again “What do you want to do with your life?” I explained I didn’t know, and he leaned toward me and, almost whispering, said “Find something you enjoy doing and get someone to pay you to do it!” I remember his happy smiling face as he said it. I said thank you, and hopped back on my bike. As I rode off waving, he said it again. I thought about this for quite some time afterwards and am certain it has had a huge impact on my life.
Initially we started selling at farmers markets and food festivals and soon we were in our local supermarket. The fabled Westmorland services group supported us greatly and were fundamental in establishing More? as a viable and reliable supplier.
We then invested 80k, re-mortgaged our family home and demolished three rooms to make a hybrid home kitchen and professional bakery. We decided we would invest heavily in movable equipment and if all went to plan, we would move into a fit for purpose unit within two or three years.
I wanted to create something professionally dazzling and lustrous. I wanted to raise the bar on the cheap penny pinching imitations of real food that was crowding the supermarket shelves and high street food outlets. I wanted to rid the country of food that wasn’t truthful in its claims and origins. I wanted to have the ability to easily get the amazing products I could create as a chef, and I could not understand why I couldn’t – surely it couldn’t just be about price…
Cumbria was hit badly by the foot and mouth disease, and so farmers had diversified into selling their own amazing products. All of a sudden, you could get fantastic beef, free range chickens, farmhouse cheese, venison, sausages and freshly dug (albeit filthy and inconsistently knobby) fruit and vegetables – which varied massively in size and weight. Farmers wives armed with rolling pins and tabards created cakes of distinction and butter that was rich, yellow and actually buttery. Finally! There was another way available.
In 2009, we won ‘Supreme Champion’ at The Great Taste Awards for our gluten free Muddee. BOOM! A moment that had a massive impact on the growth of the business. I remember vividly standing in Fortnum & Mason when Bob Farrand announced the winner and proclaimed “their lives would be changed forever”! How right he was – all of a sudden stores the length and breadth of the country wanted our products, and the Queen’s grocer insisted we supply them! Praise indeed; this gave us the confidence to invest all, and take our business to the next level. The following year we won the highest accolade for bread – the coveted Speciality Bread product of the year – with our Lakeland treacle bread with walnuts and raisins securing the award.
When I decided to start the business, I honestly thought setting it up would be the most difficult part. The truth is, I don’t think there is any easy part. We have grown year-on-year from a single man operation to now employing 26 staff. We are lucky to have dedicated individuals in all of our departments who are willing to develop both the business and themselves. For us, these are the best forms of relationships – where we evolve in unison and are proud of making a difference. We don’t create cheap imitations of products, we produce the real deal. Our ethic is simple – if it doesn’t taste great, we won’t make it.
I remember meeting James and Lizzie at the London Coffee Festival and tasting their amazing coffee. While it was the best I’d ever tasted, the important thing for me was that I had met like-minded individuals – people who wanted to make a difference and were genuinely excited and immersed in the journey, no matter what. I had met passionate individuals who had a similar background.
I am not really religious, but I have two great beliefs: fate and magnetism. Fate can be both positive and negative, but luckily I believe that negative creates a positive and not vice versa. When I think of foot and mouth, I think of the people that changed their lives out of necessity and brought something new to the table. Out of their suffering came something truly great! For the magnetism part, I believe a strong magnetism exists between similar types. Why else would you just bump into someone you know or end up meeting your soul mate?
Our business has had many milestones, which have been as varied as a new piece of equipment, new premises, a major expansion plan or significant investment. They are all significant moments on our journey and whilst the milestones seem bigger as we grow (and there is less time to enjoy the progress) it’s always up.