In for a penny . . .
Baking and ice lollies go together at a family business in Lowestoft
IT is eight-thirty in the morning, but at Lowestoft’s Penny Bun Bakehouse, Johnny Spillings has already been hard at work for hours. Dough of every conceivable shape and form is rising in vast trays and Johnny and his two bakers, Andy Howes and Darren Copeman, are zipping around in a non-stop, carefully orchestrated floury dance to get their breads in the oven for later delivery to clients all over Suffolk and Norfolk. Sourdough, ciabatta, brioche, focaccia, rye bread, spelt, hot dogs buns, sandwich loafs, speciality breads, slap, shape, rise, bake. It’s a sort of bakers’ pavanne and wherever you stand, you’re going to be in their way.
Johnny has worked with some of the biggest names on the British restaurant scene – Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir Au Quat’ Saisons, Michel Roux Snr and his son Alain at The Waterside in Bray, and nearly next door, with Heston Blumenthal. He also makes yearly trips to Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island, Necker, to cook for the billionaire’s guests during his annual tennis tournament.
It is all a long, Michelin star-studded way from a bakery on a small industrial estate in Lowestoft, but Johnny, Suffolk born and bred, wanted to be his own boss. He spent a few thousand pounds on equipment from a retiring deli owner and set up Penny Bun. Seven years on it is an established business, supplying bread to around 60 customers across the region, as well as setting up stalls at markets and festivals. Johnny’s latest venture is a pop-up shop, The Box, open on Saturdays in Southwold.
“We supply restaurants, hotels, delis, cafes, anywhere that wants to have a bit better quality of bread, and it’s really taken off,” says 37-year-old Johnny. “And because we’re not busy enough with one business and a baby, we opened another!”
That’s Lickety Ice, run in tandem with his wife Bex, a former graphic designer and mother of Savannah, who, at under two years old, is already a veteran of the Latitude music festival, where her parents had a stall. The two businesses work side by side in his-andhers units and Lickety Ice looks set to be as successful as Penny Bun.
“Jonny tends to run with these ideas, he gets quite excited, ‘let’s go for it, Suffolk hasn’t got anything like this’, so he really pushed it,” says Bex. “We both worked on it together for
a couple of years. We got the initial idea and then had to do a lot of research, find the kit, decide the flavours. The idea was to come up with a core range that we could produce and then add to and change with the seasons.”
The lollies are made with whole fruit, a minimum of sugar, sometimes milk, cream or an egg-based custard, using locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible. There is an adult range, some dessert-based, some alcoholic, which can be made bespoke for private events like weddings or birthdays, or for corporate clients. And a children’s range, because as Bex says: “There’s not much available in a children’s ice cream that is actually good for them, or low sugar, or natural fruit. I give our milk-based lollies to my daughter and I’m happy that she can eat them.”
The couple are hoping to expand the wholesale side, getting the lollies onto restaurant dessert menus and into outlets across Suffolk and Norfolk. Sometimes they combine their two businesses – at the recent Lowestoft Chilli Festival they had a stand selling chilli-flavoured bread alongside a fruity chilli ice lolly.
“It’s fun working together,” says Bex. “We get on. Jonny is a very, very good leader, and it’s been nice to brand our own concept and see it all the way through from the initial idea to getting it out to the public and going to events this year like Latitude and Jimmy’s Farm Festival. We only launched at last year’s Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival, so it’s really taken off.
“For me it’s a complete career change but I enjoy going out and selling and being around the public. Savannah has come along to everything with us so far and that doesn’t make it a work thing, it makes it a fun, family adventure that we’re doing together and it doesn’t really feel like work. It’s brilliant and I enjoy every minute.”
“The idea was to come up with a core range that we could produce and then add to and change with the seasons”
Johnny Spillings’ bread.
Hard at work at the Penny Bun Bakehouse.
Making Lickety Ices