It’s been 6 weeks since we announced our 3-step measures during the pandemic, on 14th March, with Phase 1 (cashless, new hygiene measures, shifts of staff in the bakery for distancing, customer distancing in the shop with floor markings…) live ahead of any government interventions.    One week later as pubs were closed, we removed eat in and moved to serving from the doorway only, with our acrylic sneeze guard in place.  Our set-up has become more like a market stall than a bakery-coffee house, with the baskets of bread surrounding the lobby which 1 customer at a time can view & choose from.

We are sad to lose so much of the eat-in cafe business, but even more devastating has been the overnight loss of  tens of wholesale customers when so many fabulous cafes, pubs, restaurants that we serve across the Chilterns had to close up.  Many have innovated.  Some tried to stay open for takeaway only but found that this was not a viable business model; a few others reinvented themselves as local grocery or delivery businesses serving their local communities which has been so impressive, if challenging in time & effort for them.  We are delighted to continue to supply The Hatchery, the quality Beaconsfield farm shop that delivers to the Chilterns community and has hundreds of email requests every day; Meat Hook, the popular Bovingdon butchers; the Old Mill pub in Berko which has set up as a farm shop and we are in awe of the amazing Coffee and Wine Boxmoor business, which was a new start-up business that has pivoted to the hugest delivery service picking up & onwardly distributing hundreds of Rex products every week through the lockdown.

Due to the reduced customers, we moved to a skeleton staff, opening hours 7.30 – 1.30 Tuesday – Saturday only and a slimmed down product range – we needed to focus on making just enough of the highest volume product lines so we are grateful to the various Government small business Covid-19 support schemes, enabling us to furlough & retain packers, driver, bakers, shop staff, day chefs.  And it meant the Rex baker’s family pitching in to help out with keeping the distribution going Tuesday – Saturday.    We also waged a war on costs to try to manage profits, looking at energy, refuse costs, fuel, ingredients waste and more.

Our lockdown core daily product range is

  • Rex sourdough
  • Tinned breads – White, Multiseed, Wholemeal
  • Specialty breads – Spelt, Rye
  • Croissant and Pain au Chocolat
  • Cookies

We always planned to keep Friday & Saturday as larger ranges to include Baguette, maybe another sourdough like Pumpkin & Poppyseed, Filone & ciabatta, Danish pastries, pain au raisin.  We are thrilled that whilst we have seen a double digit decline in footfall over the reduced hours and due to only 1 customer at a time, each queuing customer is buying far more from Rex so surprisingly we were often selling out very early.  Demand for so many items has meant 2 things

    • we have increased daily volumes and range way beyond our initial planned skeleton range.  For instance
      • we had expected to discontinue sausage rolls and feta & spinach rolls – we won’t compromise on quality (butter, sausagemeat, technique) and we were worried as we knew they are very expensive & time consuming to make. But demand has been so high that we have brought back our key pastry chef to make them, adjusted price and forecast volumes, and these are now a more sustainable best seller every day.
      • We are making a few Danish pastries and pain au raisin every day that we’re open now
      • We have even made new products!  The Rex Baker introduced a new Fruit Bun, similar to a Hot Cross Bun but with more cinnamon and fruit.  These are flying out.  He has also developed a blackcurrant meringue topped Brownie that just looks beautiful and tastes even better.

  • we finally began to stock the much demanded high quality groceries ingredients that we choose for Rex, for retail:
      • Monmouth coffee beans.  Monmouth is the original artisan coffee in UK, starting in Monmouth Street in covent garden back in the Seventies – and we think it’s the most delicious.  We now offer retail bags of ground and beans.
      • Dinton Farm eggs.  These are the most special & delicious free range conservation eggs, locally sourced from Aylesbury.  The chickens’ diet is 80% grown on the farm, critical if you believe you are what you eat.
      • Shipton Mill organic flour.  This has been so difficult to obtain, particularly Organic and Specialty flours, as many of you will know.  Wholemeal flour is a best seller, as are Spelt and Rye flours.  We reluctantly had to bag up 1kg of our White flour for sale as we couldn’t obtain retail bags of this – we have always told the many requesters that we were keeping our White flour stocks for our own product development, but know how sought after it seems to be so are now providing it.  This is a bread flour but we use it ourselves at Rex and at home for cakes and pastry perfectly – you just mustn’t overwork the mixture otherwise it will become too heavy.  It’s easy to turn it into Self Raising flour, just add 2 teaspoons of baking powder to every 150g of Flour.   If you are wondering how to bake with Rye flour, the Rex Baker recommends Bread books from Meyers Bakery of Copenhagen which have inspired some of our Rex recipes
      • fresh yeast; hirondelleHirondelle Fresh yeast.  You should know that this keeps fresh in your fridge for about a month, and that you should treble the quantity of dried yeast in a recipe when you use fresh yeast.  This is the same leaven we use alongside our sourdough starter in Rex, and it absolutely flying out so far.
      • We are also selling wonderful tinned Piquillo Peppers and top quality Douceur de France unsalted butter because both are so delicious with our breads.

    Thinking ahead to post-lockdown, we are hoping that we continue to see a strong retail business as we want this to be a big success.  We can’t see a fast return to crowded eating-in and queues of shoppers inside the shop, nor the open bread fixture that we once had.  This will no doubt affect our wholesale customers as well as our Rex shop which is a longer term worry because even the biggest increase in shop sales can’t touch the sides of the impact on our wholesale business.  We are therefore starting to plan a new layout and system for when lockdown rules are relaxed.  We think the current queues and sales demand are driven by

    • more of our community staying local because they aren’t travelling to work and are asked to stay at home
    • reluctance to join the big supermarket queues
    • feeling safe with the measures we’ve taken such as the 1 in, 1 out; cashless; screen etc
    • trusting the health & provenance of the real clean food we make and sell
    • desire for a delicious treat in your daily diet that somebody else made for once!
    • stocking up so that you don’t need to make so many shopping trips in a week
    • other hospitality businesses are still closed
    • kind support for us because we are a fixture in the local community

    When some of these factors adjust, we risk seeing an impact on our business again.  We really hope that the borrowed shopping we may be seeing now will stay with us, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the death of the high street had been reversed by the pandemic, that shoppers had decided to shop local again for the long term.

    what do you think?  What products would you like to see us selling in Rex Bakery?