Loaf’s first decade – a history

Tom baking in his kitchen, back in the day.

Loaf is officially ten years old! Founded by Tom Baker in 2009, we’ve come a long way, but also maintained a lot of Tom’s original ethos and ambition of Real Bread, building community through good food and providing good food to our community. A terrace house on Dell Road was our original home, as well as home to Tom and his wife, Jane. Their domestic kitchen and an earth oven they built in their garden was the backbone of Loaf for the first three years. From there, Tom baked every week for a group of subscribers who paid a monthly fee to collect regular fresh loaves from his doorstep. 

Following the example of community supported agriculture schemes, this subscription model meant that the business received enough up front cash every month to fund ingredients and other costs so it could get off the ground. Tom started running pasta and bread making courses from his home too, all alongside his job as an NHS nutritionist. Very quickly, he was busy enough to give up his day job and work on Loaf full time. Tom was Loaf’s only employee at the start, supported by a board of directors, including over the years, Jane, Michelle, Tim, Ria, Russ and Matt.

The garden earth oven, location of early Loaf bakery classes.

Loaf became a fixture at local events, selling bread and occasionally pizza from a mobile clay oven. The oven unfortunately met a sticky end on the way to CoCoMAD one year when it spectacularly crumbled into bits on the way over, leaving Tom with a lot of pizza dough and toppings and no where to bake them! Dell road came to the rescue again in the end; he and Jane hosted a pop up pizza take away from their home instead.

Loaf was part of the group that set up Stirchley Community Market and had a sell out stall there every month, introducing the neighbourhood to the ever popular Stirchley Loaf and Bournville Babka.

Fresh pizza from the mobile earth oven at Stirchley Community Market circa 2010 (photo by John Charlton).

In 2010 Loaf’s first staff member, Nancy, joined Tom, initially just covering emails and a bit of paperwork while the Bakers were on holiday but not too long after, Nancy was working one day a week for Loaf, and she remains part of the team today.

From the beginning, Loaf was invested in the local area, particularly Stirchley High Street where unscrupulous supermarkets put a strangle-hold on development and left us with empty lots and empty shops. In 2012, with the help of Everards Brewery as part of their Project Artisan scheme, Loaf took on the lease at 1421 Pershore Road where we still trade from today – and Tom and Jane reclaimed their home from the business!

An early class run by Tom in 2013.

This was a big move and it was financially supported by the sale of ‘bread bonds’. Friends, neighbours, subscribers and supporters invested in Loaf to fund the move and in return were paid interest in the form of a fortnightly loaf.

Tom and Dom in the bakery on the opening night in September 2012. Photo by Fiona Cullinan.

Tom hired a baker – Dom, who now runs CanEat, just a few doors away from us – and Loaf started selling bread five days a week, not just to subscribers! Our course offering expanded in our new cookery school, we started working with new tutors including Haseen from Kings Heath’s Pop Up Dosa, chef Lap-fai Lee, and butcher Steve Rossiter.

Lap teaching a class in 2018

Initially Loaf shared its premises with Stirchley Stores, a food co-operative which retailed whole foods and our bread. By 2014 Loaf had a team of six – Tom, Nancy, three bakers, Dom, Andy and Sarah, and Jane Baker was managing our marketing – and was ready to expand again. At this point we took over the whole space and refurbished the shop area. Alongside this another big change took place, Loaf reconstituted as a workers’ co-operative, our board of directors become advisors and the employees took on shared ownership of the business. At this point we instituted a flat wage structure, collective management and began hiring new members rather than employees. Jordan (now of Isherwood & Co) and Martha joined us, Dom moved on and not too long afterwards so did Andy (he now runs Bread & Butler in Deptford).

Nancy loading up our trusty oven.

Our next baker, Rob, came on board in towards the end of 2014 and in 2015 Molly and Anna joined the team and for a short while we were a stable team of eight, adjusting to working as a co-operative. We took on some additional bread bonds and bought new equipment so we could bake even more. Then in 2016, Tom and Jane welcomed baby Reuben, the first of four Loaf babies (Sarah has since had Etta and Joni and Nancy has had Hector) and a year later decided to move their family to Machynlleth, where they are baking and growing and running courses as Rye & Roses.

Kerry and Molly posing with the bread in 2018.

In 2017 Kerry joined us to do marketing and design work and embarked on a full redesign of our branding, resulting in the yellow Loaf icon we use today. Anna left us (she’s now working at Lune in Melbourne), new bakers Alice, and Neil came on board too and we started making more and more pastries and bread on Saturdays as demand continued to grow, we bough even more equipment to try and keep up.

Later in the year, Jordan left to run Isherwood & Co full-time, and the following year Rob moved on to train as a maths teacher and Kerry on to new projects too. Phil joined us as a baker January 2018 and in September we welcomed Pete and Rach to team Loaf. Most recently in July 2019, we hired Valentina, bringing our number to nine.

So, that’s it, a brief run down of the first ten years on Loaf! We remain committed to our original values and have added to those a commitment to creating a democratic workplace where we enjoy our jobs and support each other to bake, teach, eat and co-operate.

We are proud Stirchley-ites and love that we’re part of a concentration of co-operative businesses that is pretty unique on the British high street. And we have a wonderful bunch of customers – many have been around for the full ten years – from whom we have received all of the investment required to grow into where we are today. Here’s hoping the next ten years will be just as exciting and fulfilling – but perhaps it doesn’t have to zoom by quite as quickly!