Image Credit: @flori.bakery (Instagram)
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This week we spoke to Lotte, owner of Flori, a seasonal neighbourhood bakery located on 66 Walmgate. Before lockdown, I had personally walked past it and noticed that a new, quirky and lovely little shop had opened on this street, and I’m not proud to admit that it took a global pandemic for me to finally order from them. Those who know me know that since lockdown began, I may have somehow, accidentally spent around £30 on pastries every week, which would then somehow, mysteriously disappear within two days. All jokes aside, either walking up to Walmgate or waking up to a lovely brown bag full of pastries waiting for me on my doorstep every Saturday has been the highlight of my lockdown weeks for many weeks now. But above all this, paying attention to the work that this bakery has been doing over the past few weeks has reminded me of how small local independent businesses can create a sense of community in a neighbourhood.
When I asked Lotte about the history of her bakery, she told me: “The bakery was dreamt up when I lived in Lisbon and spent days in little family-run bakeries near my flat serving warm pasteis de nata, croissants and cinnamon buns throughout the day. The air was filled with cinnamon and cardamom, custard and flour everywhere and bakers who knew your order and greeted you with ‘bom dia’ with your pastry. One day the baker threw an apron at me and said ‘be here at 6am in the morning’; I got there first and left last and loved every minute I spent there. I got to work with Portuguese, French and Swedish bakers.”
When I asked her about how this dream became a reality in York, Lotte commented: “An opportunity for me to open a 20ft bakery in a shipping container in York in 2019 happened and I knew this would be the first step to opening my own little family bakery with a big heart, but I was always looking for a forever home for the bakery.
“In February this year I saw an empty shop on Walmgate, and I knew behind those blue doors I could make a little neighbourhood bakery filled with warmth, chatter and love. We started the move of Rose The Bread Oven, Dusty The Mixer and Puff The Sheeter that had all been rescued from retirement in a shipping container in London and brought back to life.
“By March, I spent everything I had to get this little shop looking loved again. I only managed to get all the work done with my baby on my side or on my lap then the world turned upside down and went a little scary for us with a new bakery opening and lockdown announced.”
Like many small, independent, local businesses around York, Flori had to quickly adapt to the new restrictions on social distancing and public health advisors. Lotte “decided to keep the light on and keep baking and loving my local community from a distance. [They] constantly had to keep changing and adapting because of the changing situation.” Every week on Monday, Flori has been putting out a new menu featuring a selection of both sweet and savoury pastries, where anyone can order for either delivery or collection on the following Saturday. Since everything in the bakery is handmade, the menu changes slightly every week.
The pandemic has undoubtedly affected not only shops such as Flori but also other local businesses who supply fresh ingredients. However, Lotte assures me that they continue to support the small businesses who supply them with materials for their pastries. She says that, “we make everything by hand in the bakery and work and support as many local suppliers as possible for our ingredients. We love ‘Local Grown not Flown’ and most of our micro suppliers have kept going throughout.”
“We became ‘Flori on wheels’ with volunteers peddling as fast as they can to deliver doorstep morning pastries to our bakery family to keep the bakery alive. I knew I couldn't keep baking without the community throwing their arms around us and basically adopting the bakery as part of their family life. From the outside we are just a little bakery, but the truth is we are carried along by all the love and support our bakery family throws at us. Through sheer determination, friendship and community we were thrown a life-line and we are still open.”
The days I wasn’t a lazy potato and actually made the walk to Walmgate to collect my pastries from the bakery in town, there was always a queue of people patiently waiting to do the same. But what would normally be a frustrating thing – having to wait maybe 20 minutes (I know British people love a good queue), turned into perhaps the most pleasurable part of my day. Seeing people in front and behind me eager to get a hold of their pastries or buy a nice warm cup of coffee to start their day and peeking into the bakery shop window to see the girls hard at work, I really felt like part of a community, and that is such a wonderful feeling. It made me realise just how important their work has been to strengthen and create a sense of a local community that supports each other, especially in these tough times. On this, Lotte adds:
“Without the bakery there is no community bakery and without community there is no bakery. Everything may have changed but some things stayed the same for us - Community is kindness. Late nights with little sleep are quickly forgotten in the morning when the bakery is filled with warm pastries you love, and we see your lovely smiling faces and families come rain or shine supporting us.”
I asked if they had received an overwhelming amount of positive messages from the community, to which she replied that, “our little baker’s drawing the bakery pictures and posting them through our letter box, cards left on doorsteps reminding us to smile and be happy, messages of overwhelming kindness makes it all worthwhile.”
So next time you are faced with the sometimes too familiar choice between your custom Greggs order and a handmade, locally sourced, fresh and delicious almond croissant, consider the latter as a way of strengthening your local community.
Lotte finishes by adding: “This time of living a simpler life has given us a chance to build, contribute and enjoy our local community again. The dream was to create a little neighbourhood bakery, together we made it happen. VIVE LA BAKERY!”
Flori is located on 66 Walmgate.