16 Jun Behind the Business with Ben & Ella’s Farm Shop
Quality, ethically sourced, sustainable food that tastes great, supports local and is delivered with passion weaves it’s way into my day-to-day as part of the role I have for working with and supporting independent foodie businesses across the UK, and in a perfect fit as I move forward with changes to the blog bringing you interviews with people I work with, or simply businesses who inspire me, we’re kicking off with an interview with the lovely Ella who is one of the duo behind the wonderful Ben & Ella’s Bakery and Ben & Ella’s Farm Shop.
Ben & Ella’s Farm Shop, opened in February 2019, with Ben & Ella and their ‘deli dog’ Crunchie at the helm, a young couple who are both simply very passionate about food! Nestled gently on the beautiful Baythorne Hall site, just outside Halstead in Essex and is stuffed to the brim with delicious treats. The breads and pastries are baked daily by Ben so quality and freshness are guaranteed, and the cheese counter has one of the most extensive British cheese selections I’ve seen in a while. Add to all this an inspiring selection of fresh produce, olives, condiments, pastas, salamis and a host of dairy goodies and you have a one-stop shop for all things yummy.
Environmental conscientiousness is central to Ben & Ella’s business ethos, so great care has been taken to source from like-minded producers. Glass jars, sustainable packaging, paper bags and a heart-led passion for working with small businesses doing what they can to reduce, and in time eliminate plastics from their brands!
I was lucky enough to recently interview Ella about the Farm Shop, their ethos and future plans!
Hello! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?
You are very welcome! I’m great thank you. Keeping busy as always.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
Ben grew up cooking with his grandmother and always loved it, however didnt actually start studying in the food industry until he was 21 as he took a business degree at university (which has since proved very helpful) – he progressed quickly and ended up training in Switzerland in Chocolate & Pastry Arts. On his return we met each other at 1 Michelin Starred Alimentum in Cambridge. In regards to his bread baking, he is totally self taught.
When I was little I always said I wanted to sell pancakes on local markets (don’t ask me why! I just loved pancakes!) Moving to France when I was 9 gave me a strong passion for all things food – especially cheese. So when I moved back to the UK at 16 and went straight in the catering and hospitality industry, whilst studying pastry arts I also worked in various Michelin Starred restaurants. At the age of 17 I was promoted to Head Waitress at 1 Michelin Starred The Curlew in Kent – an achievement I’m very proud to have made at such a young age.
Both Ben and I being ambitious people, we really connected when we first met, we both had big dreams and after a short while made the decision to drop our jobs and try something ourselves.
I adore your business. What made you decide to set up Ben & Ella’s Bakery and now Ben & Ella’s Farm Shop?
The bakery was just an idea, we had many ideas ! All of which quickly fizzled out when we realised they weren’t right. We noticed in the town that we were living the local market was lacking in a quality bread stall and a quality cheese stall. Ben loving bread and me loving cheese we took a gamble and jumped on local markets – after just 3 months we had to upgrade our bakery and converted our cart lodge where we were living into a micro-bakery and were receiving wholesale enquiries left right and centre.
When we moved house and moved our bakery into an industrial unit after only 1 year of baking we thought about what else we could do. When the prospect of having our own farm shop came up we leaped at the opportunity and within just 4 months we were up and running.
What’s been the biggest struggle in getting your business off the ground?
I suppose advertising is the hardest part – getting customers to actually know where we are is difficult. We aren’t in the easiest location and our biggest complaint is ‘We didn’t know you were here, you need to advertise more!!’ Footfall is key and it’s very much unlike being on a high street – people need to know we are where we are and make an effort to get to us.
Have you always been into food?
Absolutely! Growing up in France gave me a taste for the finer things in life & in regards to Ben, growing up in Newcastle and not necessarily having the opportunity to try new and exciting foods meant that when he found new foods they totally overwhelmed him and he felt a passion to learn more.
What values sit at the core of your business?
The environment – local businesses – making a difference. We are a 100% palm oil free business, this was crucial and certainly a thing I would never change. I have always been passionate about the environment – I supported Greenpeace from a young age and always felt the need to make a ‘difference’ at some point in life. We use all bio-degradable packaging and are trying our best to become a zero waste company.
We really wanted to support local and new businesses, we know how it feels to be on the supplier end of things and how hard it is to get a wholesale company off the ground. I love being in the position where I am now both the supplier and the buyer because I feel I have a stronger connection with our suppliers due to the fact that I know exactly how it feels to be one.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Go with your heart, don’t let anyone tell you what you are doing is wrong. If it’s what you want to do then do it! Don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself and to ask for help when you need it.
If there were no resource restraints, what would be your dream foodie project?
Thats a hard one – I kind of feel already that I am living my dream foodie project – We want to build an empire together as we always say so to constantly expand is the dream. We really want to keep pushing our bakery as far as it can go, introducing new products all the time but equipment is so expensive when you’re selling a product that you can only sell for so much.
What is the most important piece of equipment in the bakery?
Definitely the oven – bread literally wouldn’t exist without it! We’ve upgraded 3 times and now have a beastly deck oven with 2 decks, these can bake 36 loaves in one go, so we would eventually like another deck too!
What tools or materials could you not live without?
Phone/Laptop – we are constantly on the go and don’t have a dedicated office – I am on my emails 24/7, social media 24/7 – it is so important for us to keep up to date on Instagram/facebook as this is where most of custom has been found. It’s really hard just having myself running both the admin for the bakery (taking orders, finding new businesses) and all of the supplier requests, accounts, emails for our farm shop too! Therefore its essential to have my phone on me at all times!
What’s your typical working day?
Ha! All day every day – my mind never shuts off! But in realistic terms – Ben bakes from 7pm at night to 4am in the Morning and my usual shift at the farm shop is 8.30 – 5.30, however when I get home its onto emails, orders and invoices!
Why has social media been an important platform for you to use for your business?
It is the best free advertisement you can get – also it is the new way – everyone is on social media, you can interact with thousands of people in your local area quickly and effectively. For the bakery, bread imagery helps us to find new customers, everyone loves looking at good pictures of food.
Who inspires your work?
We inspire each other I think – working with your partner isn’t easy, so everyone tells you, but genuinely, I think we have argued maybe 3 times over the past 2 years re work. We both put in as much effort as each other and are there to support each other when there’s a difficult day.
It’s quite stubborn but I would also say that I actually wanted to do well to prove people wrong. & therefore inspire myself. Both of our families are filled with self employed and ambitious people.
Do you have any favourite product you adore at the moment from your farm shop?
Cocoa Loco Chocolate – I absolutely love these guys, they have really similar ethos to us, totally environmentally friendly, no palm oil, and have just launched a brand new compostable packaging range for their products. Plus their chocolate is bloody delicious!
Anyone you’d love to stock?
Not really a company, but a product (Produce Bags) they are reusable bags to store your vegetables when shopping, super cute and pretty fashionable! I’ve been having a hard time finding a local company but I shall find one!
Finally, what can we hope to see in this up and coming year for your businesses, any exciting plans?
Okay so, we haven’t really told anyone yet but it’s not really a secret! We have just been accepted to have the barn opposite us and are opening a new Shop/expansion to our farm shop called ‘The Gift Barn’ @ Ben & Ella’s. It’s a cross between a gift shop and an essential shop – providing all the extras that you can buy usually from a supermarket (homeware, beauty products, gift items, stationary, kids toys etc etc) and this will hopefully be a Plastic Free Shop! Following on our same ethos of environmentally friendly products and alternatives. Super exciting!! We will then also use all of our outside courtyard area to stock animal products, garden furniture, plants and much more!
Thanks to Ella for answering my questions in between her busy schedule. To follow their journey and find them at Baythorne Hall follow these links!
Behind The Business and Foodie Reviews are new concepts for this blog. If you wish to be included and you are a food lover, chef or artisan producer, please contact me via the contact page. Alison is the owner and Director of Serenity VA and provides Business & Marketing services to small businesses and inspirational foodie clients across the globe. For more information see www.serenityva.co.uk Or give us a call! We are always happy to discuss how we can help you and your business!