KITCHEN TA­BLE TALENT

THIS MONTH: THE GOWER BROWNIE BAKER

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by sarah bar­ratt pho­tographs by brent darby

We cel­e­brate home-grown en­trepreneurs who have turned their hobby into a thriv­ing busi­ness. This month: Gower Cot­tage Brown­ies

We cel­e­brate home-grown en­trepreneurs who have turned their hobby into a thriv­ing busi­ness

aside from the dis­tant bleat of new­born lambs, all is quiet in the vil­lage of Reynold­ston, home to Gower Cot­tage and its epony­mous brownie brand, which is steadily gath­er­ing fans up and down the coun­try. But all is not as it seems. Step in­side the unas­sum­ing stone cot­tage on the cor­ner of the green and you’ll be greeted by a flurry of ac­tiv­ity as lo­cal ‘elves’ busily bake choco­latey de­lights in prepa­ra­tion for the Easter rush.

“This is the epit­ome of a cot­tage in­dus­try,” laughs founder Kate Jenk­ins, sur­vey­ing her kitchen, where stacks of neatly la­belled card­board boxes await de­liv­ery to cus­tomers na­tion­wide. Re­mark­ably, when Kate and her hus­band Rob bought the cot­tage 13 years ago, they would never have dreamt they would set up a busi­ness named af­ter it, or any busi­ness at all for that mat­ter. At that point, Kate, orig­i­nally from Scot­land, and Rob, who had grown up sur­rounded by the hills, val­leys and broad sandy beaches of the Gower Penin­sula in south Wales, had just re­turned from a five-year stint in Swe­den, hav­ing moved there for Rob’s job. While abroad, Kate had fo­cused on rais­ing their two sons, Ioan and An­gus, now aged 14 and 16.

It was only af­ter they re­turned to Rob’s home coun­try that Kate’s in-laws, who lived nearby, sug­gested that she start sell­ing her dev­il­ishly good choco­late brown­ies in the com­mu­nity-run vil­lage shop. Th­ese de­li­ciously gooey, crispy creations – the se­cret recipe for which she’d de­vel­oped when us­ing up store­cup­board in­gre­di­ents – were al­ready a big hit with her sons, so she thought she would give it a go: “I felt that if I could just get £10 to buy my own wine, I’d feel a real sense of achieve­ment.” De­spite her humble in­ten­tions, her brown­ies were a huge hit, prov­ing pop­u­lar with tourists, their rep­u­ta­tion spread­ing quickly via word of mouth.

One of the charms of liv­ing in a Gower vil­lage is its re­mote­ness, but this isn’t al­ways con­ducive to grow­ing a busi­ness. So, to get around this, Kate re­alised she would have to post her creations to po­ten­tial cus­tomers. Not sure whether this would even be pos­si­ble, she fash­ioned a par­cel of brown­ies and sent them to her­self, wait­ing with bated breath to see whether they would sur­vive the jour­ney: “We were ex­pect­ing to open a box of crumbs but they ar­rived back in per­fect con­di­tion.” It turns out that, un­like crumbly cup­cakes, a brownie’s dense­ness lends it­self to long-dis­tance travel, an­other ben­e­fit of its sim­ple ap­peal – some­thing that Kate is keen to stay true to: “I don’t do a lot of flavours – all the ones avail­able now such as Oreo or Rolo drive me nuts. This is a true brownie: crunchy on top with a squidgy cen­tre.”

With no prior ex­pe­ri­ence, Kate ap­proached run­ning a busi­ness the same way she ap­proaches life in gen­eral – with a healthy dose of com­mon sense. Keep­ing things straight­for­ward, the only ini­tial costs were in­gre­di­ents: “Then I’d sell the prod­uct and have enough to buy more,” she ex­plains. A lo­cal woman cre­ated a web­site (the same one she uses to­day) and Kate typed a press re­lease be­fore pop­ping copies in­side boxes of brown­ies and send­ing them to the ed­i­tors of ma­jor mag­a­zines – one of whom claimed hers were ‘the best he’d ever tasted’.

It seems some­what im­prob­a­ble that dur­ing the re­ces­sion a bak­ing busi­ness should flour­ish, but Kate feels the eco­nomic down­turn may ac­tu­ally have con­trib­uted to her suc­cess: “Peo­ple were re­ally think­ing about where to spend their money and in un­cer­tain times it’s nice to know who you’re buy­ing from.” Pristinely pack­aged in crisp tis­sue pa­per and tied with a sig­na­ture brown bow, the bakes have proven a pop­u­lar present. “Our motto is: ‘In­stead of send­ing flow­ers, say it with brown­ies.’ I love flow­ers, but when I had the boys, they were all I got – no one has that many vases. Plus, all I wanted to do was eat,” she laughs. “It’s lovely be­cause giv­ing our brown­ies has be­come a tra­di­tion. I know peo­ple who’ve been get­ting them since they were chil­dren and have since eaten them at their wed­dings.”

To­day, Kate has sold brown­ies to more than 20,000 happy cus­tomers. “They’re the per­fect prod­uct be­cause each time they’re or­dered as a gift, they’re re-mar­keted to a new per­son, who will or­der them for some­one else.” The rise of so­cial me­dia has also

been in­stru­men­tal in grow­ing the busi­ness’s pro­file – and Kate’s en­thu­si­asm and charm have seen her at­tract a sig­nif­i­cant fol­low­ing. “One of my cus­tomers told me: ‘There’s this thing called Twit­ter – you need to be on it.’ I’m not very tech­ni­cal, but I took to it like a duck to wa­ter.” Whether on the in­ter­net or in real life, Kate’s wit and warmth have helped Gower Cot­tage Brown­ies fall into the hands of some se­ri­ously well-heeled buy­ers – in­clud­ing film direc­tor Richard Cur­tis and his wife Emma Freud (who she met via Twit­ter), the cast of the BBC drama Mer­lin and the en­tire Welsh rugby team (ru­mour has it their pre-match snack is al­ways a brownie – and Kate likes to think she as­sisted in the Grand Slam win in 2012).

“I’m lucky be­cause a lot of pro­duc­ers cre­ate fan­tas­tic things but don’t like to talk about them­selves, but you’ve got to be able to sell your­self. One of the rea­sons my ven­ture has done so well is be­cause I al­ways put my­self out there and tell ev­ery­one what I’m do­ing. I don’t see it as sell­ing, I see it as talk­ing,” she says.

The long list of ac­co­lades keeps on grow­ing and last year, as well as be­ing flown to Japan to sell her prod­ucts in the coun­try’s equiv­a­lent of Har­rods, Kate re­ceived a call from Wim­ble­don. Now, each June, bun­dles of Gower Cot­tage Brown­ies grace the white-clothed ta­bles of the cen­tre court lounge: “I’m in a lit­tle cot­tage in Wales and now I’m sup­ply­ing Wim­ble­don! I pinch my­self daily about how far we’ve come!”

But while busi­ness is boom­ing, Kate is adamant she doesn’t want to run a fac­tory: “Peo­ple ask if I want to stock su­per­mar­kets, but I ab­so­lutely don’t as we’d lose our au­then­tic­ity.” It’s been over a decade since she sold that first brownie in the vil­lage shop, and now Kate’s run­ning a small em­pire. While she has out­grown her orig­i­nal oven, it’s heart­en­ing to know that, de­spite huge pop­u­lar­ity, Gower Cot­tage Brown­ies are still be­ing made in Gower Cot­tage – a true cot­tage in­dus­try if ever there was one.

Find out more at gow­er­cot­tage­brown­ies.co.uk.

ABOVE Kate’s brown­ies, made us­ing her own se­cret recipe, are still be­ing made in Gower Cot­tage, the home she moved to 13 years ago

ABOVE Kate also sells a range of brownie but­ters; she posts her beau­ti­fully pack­aged brown­ies out to cus­tomers across the coun­try BELOW Orig­i­nally from the Gower area, to which the cou­ple re­turned af­ter a spell in Swe­den, hus­band Rob helps to man­age the busi­ness

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