During all these lockdowns so many businesses have been successfully forged in the wildfire of social media, taking full advantage of our despondent scrolling and thirst for a chink of novelty beyond our ever-shrinking four walls. But on the ground beneath that swirl of online chatter there have been other businesses too, projects which make a virtue of our physical constriction as they serve the community no further afield than their own doorsteps.
Taymount Bakery is one such business. Indeed, Holly never intended it to be a business at all. During the first restrictions, while grocery shopping was an impossibility for some because of shielding or shortages, she was moved to assist and baked four or five loaves a week for the fellow residents of the 76 flats in her apartment block in Forest Hill. News soon spread the old-fashioned way, by word of mouth, and Holly then advertised in an equally old-fashioned manner – with a flyer in her foyer. She was inundated with requests. Her range expanded to include delicate, hand-laminated pastries and impressive bakes. Holly’s domestic oven was put through its paces, she bought herself a large commercial mixer, and her husband was forced lunchless from the kitchen each weekend as every surface was devoted to baking and packing.
So how did Holly get here?
Holly has been a master of leapfrogging from job, to hobby, to side hustle, to job again; every time juggling the intense commitment that the tasks require as she snowballs responsibility, waiting to shed each one until the next has truly taken off. In just a couple of years she has moved to the Taymount Bakery from a fiercely demanding job in film, simultaneously freelancing as a busy food stylist. Anyone who makes excuses, who delays following their ambitions citing lack of contacts, time or training, should look to Holly. A lack of contacts? A speculative email to a food stylist whom she had met gained Holly her first work experience, gradually accumulating clients as she built her portfolio. A lack of time, or training? Once the styling took off properly she took an additional job at Little Bread Pedlar, seeking to take her baking and pastry skills to the next level. Midnight filming wraps were followed by 4am baking starts. Her body and brain started to rebel against the rigours of the schedule: she remembers “sleep just deserted me, for weeks”, and the job in film had to go.
The common factor in this journey is dedication and discipline. It may not be linear, and it may at times be inconvenient, but the great payoff in allowing one career to bleed into the other is the luxury of tweaking your circumstances as you go, pivoting from one avenue towards another while still retaining the security of the last, and arriving at a place perfectly suited to your individual strengths. Holly is glad that she did not undergo formal chef training, reflecting that “I wouldn’t survive in service. I’m an absolute perfectionist, but I need my own space and my own time. I was lucky that I didn’t experience that at culinary school and think, oh god, I hate working in kitchens, then leave it forever”. She felt embarrassment initially, in telling chefs whom she respected that she was self-taught, but that soon gave way to justified pride in her skills and achievement.
Taymount Bakery may have started at the kitchen table at weekends, but to call it a side hustle may be to do it a disservice. She has given up the film work, she has given up work at Little Bread Pedlar, and the new space is the final piece of the jigsaw, allowing Taymount to exist in symbiosis with her food styling. From the moment she realised that her community bakery had outgrown her domestic oven she was insistent that she did not want a shop front, preferring to maintain the emphasis on the kitchen rather than a shop window to which she would forever be beholden, chasing her tail to make the high retail rent. She chose a little kitchen unit in a studio block close to her house to continue baking on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and she values the flexibility that the lower rent affords her, allowing her to use the kitchen for experimentation and development without concern that every moment spent should yield immediate financial return. She adds that her growth is intentionally slow: “having a small audience rather than being immediately inundated has been nice for me, in terms of my anxiety level”.
The difference between a hobby and a side hustle is that the latter must make profit. Holly is intricately aware of this, citing the high price of packaging as a surprise cost to be absorbed: “when you work for someone else that just doesn’t cross your radar”, as well as facing the eternal dichotomy between cost and compromise. She decided to gradually increase her prices and, to her delight, her customers responded not with horror but with relief: “one told me that she couldn’t bear to think of me doing all this work and not making any money. She wanted to pay fairly so that she knew I would still be operating in the future”. Such understanding is one of the joys of a business built at the heart of a community.
Holly muses “it takes elements of jeopardy to make people realise that they really do love doing something”. One of the greatest sadnesses for so many chefs during this time has been the removal of the satisfaction of sharing their food with others: “we are all such feeders, especially pastry chefs. If you can have an actual interaction with a person who gives you positive feedback, that’s just such an amazing feeling”. Now, with the keys to her new bakery jingling in her hand as proof of Taymount Bakery’s gradual, considered growth, she can be proud that her wide-ranging career enabled her to narrow her horizons, to serve the community immediately around her, and allow her to continue doing what she loves. “I think of so many people who have found comfort in food during lockdown. Being able to bring that joy – that’s just the icing on the cake”.
Interview: Kitty Slydell-Cooper
Follow Holly on Instagram here