London woman turns lockdown loaves into bakery success

LONDON (AFP) – When Britain first entered lockdown in March last year, Sophia Sutton-Jones decided to try making sourdough bread.

A year later, she is running her own popular bakery.

“I’d always thought about it, but I never had the courage to do it,” she told AFP.

Now Sutton-Jones, 29, and her husband Jesse, 28, work alongside half a dozen staff members pulling hot loaves out of the oven, putting out flaky pastries and cutting slices of cakes topped with cream.

It all started when Sutton-Jones, whose father was also a baker, made a loaf of bread for a neighbour who was sheltering during the first national lockdown in March 2020.

“He talked to his friends about it,” she said. “Very quickly, we had 12 people waiting in front of our house.”

The couple, who sold kitchenware online before the pandemic, began to deliver orders by bicycle in their north London neighbourhood.

Sophia Sutton-Jones shapes the dough after bulk fermentation at Sourdough Sophia bakery in north London. PHOTO: AFP

Producing the loaves from home soon became impractical as everything got coated in flour, Sutton-Jones recalled.

“Our dining room was the bakery and our guestroom the storage space. So you could come as a guest and sleep on flour bags.”

Fired by their initial success, the couple turned to crowdfunding to launch their business.

They were hoping for GBP25,000 (USD35,000, EUR30,000) but ended up raising GBP33,000.

The distinctive pink-painted bakery – ‘Sourdough Sophia’ – opened in January.

Their pains au chocolat, croissants and cruffins – a cross between croissant and muffin – sell like hotcakes.

But their biggest hit is sourdough bread, which the British have embraced enthusiastically. Home-baked bread became a major trend of lockdown, with enthusiastic amateurs posting pictures of their efforts in pursuit of the perfect golden crust.

The surge of interest led to shortages of yeast and people “understood that actually, there is another way to make bread and it’s actually much better, much healthier”, said Sutton-Jones.

Sourdough bread is made using a fermented starter instead of yeast and its enthusiasts believe it is more beneficial than ordinary bread, causing blood sugar to rise more gradually and helping gut health.

It takes longer to rise but – thanks to stay-at-home protocols – people were finally not in a rush.

“It’s the oldest way of making bread,” said Sutton-Jones.

‘Sourdough Sophia’ attracts a long line of customers as soon as it opens even though it sits it a short distance from the local shopping street with many other bakeries.

“I’ve been to all of them. The bread is much better here,” said 43-year-old Ben Claypole, waiting outside with his small dog.

He added that he is keen to support small businesses.

The bakery opened while “non-essential” shops remain shuttered until April 12 and financial pressures mean some will never reopen.

Sutton-Jones, who has a baby daughter, said she realised the risk of opening during the current situation and put in long 14-hour days. But she has no regrets.

Baking something and seeing a customer come in to enjoy it “gives me a real kick”, she said.

“Lockdown made people think about their priorities,” she said, with the life-and-death situation prompting some big questions.

“What if something else happens to us? Shouldn’t we follow our dreams now? Because anything could happen.”