Fieldnotes 013 | Exploding Bakery

Fieldnotes 013 | Exploding Bakery

The proof is in the pudding. Over the years, we've built up quite a community of stockists, and one of our latest is one that has had all of our mouths watering at Uskees HQ.

With their cafe based in Exeter and their strong online presence, Exploding Bakery not only produces delicious cakes and brownies, but they've written their own book on it too.

We don't need an excuse to visit a bakery, so that's exactly what we did for the latest edition of Fieldnotes.

We sat down with Oliver, one of the founders of Exploding Bakery, to get the full story.

Please could you start by introducing yourself and telling us a bit about what you do? 

I'm Oliver, and with Tom Oxford, I'm one of the founders of The Exploding Bakery. We started baking tray bakes and selling them to other coffee shops from our cafe in Exeter. Now we sell cakes to all sorts of places around the UK, including hotel chains, farm shops, boutique delicatessens, and fancy coffee shops. This is the backbone of our business.

However, over the last few years, we've branched off and ventured into selling brownies and cakes online. It's kind of a gifting service, a bit like Bloom and Wild, but people like buying cakes for themselves too.

How and when did Exploding Bakery start? 

Way back in 2001, Tom was making cakes for his mum's small chain of juice bars, as she couldn't find a good supplier. He developed a bunch of solid recipes over 10 years. So in 2011, we started a wholesale cake company, using local, high-quality ingredients without any artificial preservatives, making honest cakes in small batches, all by hand. This is exactly what we're still doing today, just making a lot more.

It was interesting starting a business without any money or investment; you really need to get creative. That's when we had the idea of using a space the public could visit, rather than an industrial unit tucked away on the edge of some town or city. We thought having a cafe bakery would help get our name out there, and it really worked on a local level. We also wanted to serve specialty coffee and hearty lunches alongside our cakes; this was simply to help pay the bills as we didn't have a client base and no money coming in from that side of the business. Luckily, both the cafe and the wholesale took off at the same trajectory, and we've never stopped growing. Within two years, we'd opened a production bakery in London to cope with demand, but we've now relocated that to Devon.

Can you tell us a bit about your team? 

We love to promote from within, so some of the team have been with us from nearly day one. But as you grow a business, it's also important to bring in the right people with the required skill set, especially in areas like finance. But we believe it's important to invest in people; this is an idea we've taken from St John Restaurant. It's also important to let staff fly the nest and let them flourish elsewhere. We've had four of our staff leave to start their own cafe in the Exeter area, and all these places are unique and really successful. It's nice to think we've influenced a positive change in the area and in people's lives. 

You have a strong online presence as well as a physical café, where are you located?

Our cafe is located in Central Station in the heart of Exeter, which is in Devon. There is so much energy around the crescent of shops where we are, with a real mix in demographics. We get commuters and shoppers getting off the train looking for a quick bite, plenty of students guzzling coffee, as Exeter is a university city; we're also opposite a college.

Then, our locals and regulars, who are so important to the company, we love building meaningful relationships in this way. We even get tourists over the summer, which is actually useful due to the students and locals vacating the city during those months. But we've met some amazing people who are just visiting while on holiday; some we still keep in touch with via email. They even send us coffee, and we post them cake in return.

Other than your online store and café, where else are you stocked?

Our trophy customer is probably Fortnum & Mason; we make tons of brownies for them, and they're a brilliant client, so supportive. They really champion our recipe book too (Bake It, Slice It, Eat It) and always have stacks of copies around the store. We also work with clients such as Waterstones Cafes, The Eden Project, Mollies Diner, and St Austell Brewery Pubs. So, a wide range of stockists.

How do you choose what baked goods to make and stock?

We tend to be ingredient-led when it comes to cake, basing things on the suppliers we are working with. Our single-origin Colombian chocolate is a signature flavor in many of our cakes. But we also love ground almonds, which make an appearance in many of our cakes.

We're lucky to source a regenerative supply of nuts from a great little company called Food & Forest. Butter also plays a big part in our cakes. We've actually just finished writing our second recipe book, so we use lots of recipes from there for inspiration too.

Do you have a particular favourite?

Our Exploding Brownie is a personal favorite among all the products we make. It's made with just five ingredients, but I feel this allows the flavor of each component to really shine. It can be served up as a dessert by gently warming it and adding a little pouring cream or ice cream. It's also sturdy enough to put in a bag, so I normally take one to the beach to eat after going for a morning swim, or if I need the energy to ramble across Dartmoor, it really hits the spot.

When you live in the WestCountry, you really need to embrace the outdoors, and munching on some cake can make this experience even better.

How does Uskees work with Exploding bakery? 

Uskees provides us with staff uniforms and workwear, but we also stock items on our online store. Tom and I are really into slow fashion, so wearing high-quality materials in classic designs is the way forward for us. We've been wearing chore jackets for years, and the Uskees Overshirt is something that will never go out of fashion. I wear mine out for dinner as it looks smart, but can also wear it for a winter walk in the woods with a woolly jumper underneath or to a summer BBQ with a t-shirt; they're so versatile. But we both take one to work every day, as we can wear them in the kitchen or in the office.

I'm wearing mine right now as I answer these questions. All our staff have one of these jackets, and we allow them to choose a color that suits them; it's a type of uniform that allows individuality if you like.

We use the Uskees aprons too, as they're so solidly built, they can withstand the wear and tear of a professional kitchen and go in the hot wash every day; they'll still last a lifetime, so they're a good investment.

We thought it'd be a good idea to sell these items on our online store, so our customers can have a bit of Explodingness in their own home. It's exciting for our business to be an extension of things we love, but I feel there is a good alignment in the Exploding and Uskees brands, especially on things like sustainability. It's a good fit.

Thank you to Oliver for taking part in the latest issue of Fieldnotes. 

If you're tempted to try one of Exploding Bakery's many delicious creations, head on over to explodingbakery.com