My cinnamon buns bring all the boys to the Yard.
26 May 2020
Sometimes an Instagram post can change your life. Frank Whiteley and Justin Juodiskis are former work colleagues that traded coffee shop jobs for their very own bakery all thanks to a social media rant after a bad day at the office. We caught up with them on their first day back to partial normality after shutting up shop for lockdown.
Who are you guys and how did all of this begin?
Frank: We are Choux Makers. That's me, Justin and Justin’s partner, Andrea. Andrea has a full time job and her background is in accounting so it’s perfect for her to look after the more admin side of things. Myself and Justin had both been baristas for almost all of our working lives; that’s how we met. We both worked in a coffee shop in the Northern Quarter. One day I was just having one of those particularly bad days you have. I was tired of putting in a lot of hard work for someone else and I just put out on social media “Does anyone want to start a business with me?”. Justin responded and just said “Yeah?” and I was like “Oh alright, great”.
So fortunate timing for both of you?
Frank: We’d worked with each other before and Justin had actually been thinking about starting his own business for a long time. He’d already done a lot of background planning and research and had found out about these shipping containers that were available at a place called Pollard Yard. This was in maybe in December 2019. Do you know much about the Yard?
I was aware of it but this is my first time here, maybe because it’s a bit off the beaten track?
Frank: It’s about a 15 minute walk from the marina. Justin had read about it in an article online and had come for a viewing but decided that the venture on his own was a bit too much capital to invest. That’s why me getting involved at that time was so lucky. Pollard Yard is sort of in its infancy I guess. They have big expansion plans so it’s fortunate that we have our foot in the door while it’s still at an early stage. We’re getting ourselves known before it doubles in size.
Even though there are other pastry places in Ancoats, on the marina for example, we felt that because we are a bit out of the way, there was enough market for another one.
Also worth noting that Manchester was recently named the fastest growing city in Europe; there’s constantly new apartments going up in Ancoats and New Islington so presumably it’s only going to get busier?
Justin: We recently received a letter notifying us of more major developments over the next couple of years, near where New Islington tram stop is; a stadium type gig venue; shops; commercial units etc.
It seems like there’s a real mixture of businesses already here at Pollard Yard.
Frank: Yes, the variety in the units is huge; there are people using it for co-working spaces; florists; barbers; tattoo artists; yoga studios and a few musician’s studios.
I saw on Instagram that someone grows mushrooms here!
Frank: Yes, that’s right. They mainly grow Shitake I think and there’s another person that has it for more of a hobby but he grows strawberries and I think he’s looking to branch out into micro herbs. There’s also an escape room, basically anything you can think of.
Justin: We got some mushrooms from those guys once, very nice. And they supply Michelin starred Mana in Ancoats. Before the lockdown everyone had their doors open. There’s two beauty salons, an upholstery designer. One of the containers provided props for movies before they moved to Glasgow to work on a big project.
So you feel at home here?
Frank: Yeah, it’s good. We’d only been open a month before we had to close for lockdown and it just feels like a really good community. We wanted some business cards printed and there’s a person here that does that, he did our sign too. There’s another person that does embroidery and they’re going to do our uniforms for us. We even got matching tattoos of our brand from a guy just over the way! It feels almost like a village mentality.
Was the plan to only service the people that work at Pollard Yard or do you also get custom from people off the street?
Frank: We thought that because of the amount of units here that it was a good safety net. We know that there’s always going to be customers here but our main aim was to provide for coffee shops and offices in town. We’d just started to win a few contracts in the week before we had to shut down.
We do get a few customers that walk their dogs locally or have found us via social media. I think that for the amount of time we’ve been open we’ve done quite well. We’ve been able to experiment with different recipes and we’ve found out obviously that veganism is really popular for example so we always have a vegan option and vegan milks. We’re gradually tailoring our offering according to what’s popular and what’s not.
So that’s a big part of the ambition, to supply bakeries and restaurants?
Frank: Yes and I’ve got a few contacts that work in offices and they have kitchen budgets so potentially we could we supply cakes and pastries there too.
Justin: We do have long term plans I guess, dreams really. We’d love a bigger bakery. Not necessarily multiple branches just one really nice one.
Frank: It would be great if we had a nice seating area for our customers. We’ve found that you can’t really expect people to pay café prices for drinks and cakes if they can’t sit down and enjoy the experience. We were meant to have a meeting about the future of Pollard Yard in the week before the lockdown; there are apparently plans to add some sort of communal seating area.
I noticed that you guys currently don’t have a website, is that part of the plan too?
Frank: We’re thinking about launching a webshop in the coming weeks for pre-orders and things like that because that’s probably a more efficient way of doing things. Our cinnamon buns for example are really popular. They sell out really quickly because when they’re baking, the smell really draws people in. We have a Pollard Yard WhatsApp group and everyone messages “Save me a bun! Save me a bun!”. Pre-orders would be better because it would mean less waste and we could guarantee that our customers get what they want. Then we could either organise collection times or even deliver locally. I think if we start doing a pre-order we could quite easily sell 50 cinnamon rolls in a day.
Who’s the baker?
Frank: Justin’s the main baker, Andrea does some baking too. I do the savoury options; pizza rolls and things like that.
What’s an average day for you, presumably up painfully early to bake?
Justin: Well not right now! But usually yes, it depends on the day. On Mondays all the supplies arrive and that’s at about 5am so I have to be here to let them in. Normally I would be here about 7am or 8am to prepare the dough and leave it to rise.
What time do you normally open when we’re not in lockdown?
Justin: Er, was it 9am?
Frank: Yeah, it was 9am. Or was it 9.30am?
Justin: No… Was it?
Justin: It was a long time ago!
Listen, you’re both your own boss now, you can open whenever you like.
Justin: Exactly. That was kind of the point.
Frank: Yeah it was 9am - 5pm. Hold on, come to think of it, was it 8am?
Moving on, it sounds like you guys are doing great. Would you go back and do anything differently?
Frank: If anything, maybe we should have taken a bigger unit, twice the length; currently we’re a bit limited on power. The rent here is cheap so it’s not much risk for us really. It’s a monthly rolling contract too so if we wanted to end it we just give them a months notice; then all we’ve lost is the money for the flooring and decorating.
What advice would you give to people thinking about starting their own business venture?
Justin: All I would say is that we should have done it earlier, this has been on our minds for a while. Just go for it!
Frank: Agreed. I’m in my mid 30’s now; I probably should have done this five or six years ago. But you know it’s the fear. I was too scared to take a risk.
Are you both from Manchester?
Frank: I’ve been here since university so that’s 2002. I’m originally from Garstang near Preston so not too far away really. I came here and did a computer science degree, didn’t really like it and ended up working in cafés and restaurants. I’ve been picking up ideas as I’ve been going along, constantly watching food programmes so this is great for me because it’s my passion. I’d also say don’t do anything unless you’re properly behind it.
Justin: I’m originally from Lithuania but I’ve been in Manchester since 2012. Now I live in the square, in the Ice Plant.
If you had people coming to Manchester to stay for the weekend, what would you recommend they do?
Justin: Stay at home
Frank: Stay safe.
Well done lads, that was trick question, both correct.
Justin: I would say explore the city centre but make sure you get out to the suburbs like Chorlton, Didsbury and Altrincham.
Frank: I do have a good local pub crawl if you’re interested? Like proper pubs.
Yes please, Frank. I’m always here for pub recommendations.
Frank: Okay, I’d probably start in Gulliver’s or The Castle, both opposite each other on Oldham Street. Then I’d go to The Crown and Kettle which is the big one on the corner, that’s really nice inside, especially the ceiling. Then there’s Fringe Bar and The Smithfield Tavern. Ending with The Angel and The Marble Arch.
Excellent. A friend if mine actually recommended The Angel and The Marble Arch to me recently.
Frank: The Angel has a big outdoor seating area that’s always my go-to beer garden. The Marble Arch has a beer garden too but not as big. Hopefully that means they can open before the other pubs, and soon. There are a few good places that are doing takeaway pints and cocktails now though, like Flok and Sammy’s Bar.
On a separate note, I always think the Science and Industry Museum is really great. And there’s a really good chippy opposite!
Choux Makers are currently operating under reduced hours of 10am - 3pm but check their Instagram to confirm. You can visit them at Pollard Yard, 15 Pollard Street East, Manchester M40 7QX
Interview and images by Christian at Blossom.