We sat down with Brick House owner Fergus Jackson to discuss the importance of taking a risk and mastering your craft.
Here at Drake’s, we’ve been keeping an eye on Brick House from afar over the past few months now. The East Dulwich based bakery and cafe, set just off Lordship Lane on ZenorIa Street, specialises in sourdough offerings that we're not ashamed to say we've become rather obsessed with. To find out more we ventured south of the river from our home on Haberdasher Street on a crisp, blue-skied Wednesday morning to speak to Fergus Jackson, owner and head baker of Brick House bread, about his sourdough story.
Could you please do us the pleasure of introducing yourself and giving us a little background on Brick House ?
I’m Fergus Jackson, and alongside my wife Sharmin, I own Brick House.
I was, until about six years ago, working in advertising as a creative director. For a while I’d been feeling disenchanted with the entire thing. I’d got to a point in my career where I wasn't making a huge amount of stuff, it was a time where clients were nervous about making anything remotely interesting, they had smaller budgets and didn't want to commit to too much. I wasn’t fulfilled at all. At the same time I was beginning to bake bread at home, it was a hobby that was very quickly getting out of control. Sharm’ and I spoke for a while about setting up a food business of some sort, to establish a family business, but we didn’t really know how to go about it.
I was online one day and had a bit of a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment. I discovered a course out in San Fransisco, at the S.F.B.I - the San Francisco Baking Institute. I started reading about it and it was at that moment when the penny dropped. I realised this is what I should be doing! I emailed them and filled out what was a very long, wordy and pretty detailed form and sent it back. Their courses varied in length and they touched on different things from tinned white loaves to French style pastries and cakes, right up to desserts. It was a case of 'if we get on the course we’ll go to San Fran and give it a go', but if not we’d have to re-assess. Long story short we got on the course.
That is incredibly exciting.
It was a mental thing to do when I look back on it.
It’s always the same; when you’re in the moment and living it, it just doesn’t seem as reckless does it?
I’d agree and I’m a really risk averse person in a lot of ways but at the time it seemed like the right thing.
It wasn’t just the fact you were making a total career change. For both you and your wife to move to San Fransisco, that’s a huge leap of faith.
Yeah exactly. We left everything and it was an amazing five months.
So in this amazing space that we’re sitting in today, are the breads you’re producing directly influenced by that course or were you doing things beforehand that have come through?
I was doing stuff before but the majority of what we do here is very influenced by the course and general travelling in the States as well. That five months was finding things that we liked and putting our own mark on it. Everything here has been developed by me and fed through to everyone else. Everything is based on principles and techniques that we learnt during our time in San Francisco though.
So on arrival back into London after your trip, did you then go on to secure this site for the business?
When we returned there was definitely a transition period. We were both terrified of slipping into the things we were doing before too. Prior to moving to this area [from Battersea] we were aware of the community’s support toward local businesses and that was something that really grabbed us. As well as that, in moving to East Dulwich we were pleasantly surprised to discover how friendly people were here.
So when did you move into this space?
We actually got a space in an old garage on an industrial estate, amongst a fairly mixed bag of other businesses. For three years we were a wholesale operation where I was really starting to test stuff out. We moved into our home on Zenoria Street around nine months ago.
It’s an incredibly open space - rare to find in London.
Yes, it’s hard to find this kind of space and our accountant often remarks that we need more tables! A lot of customers make it known how they enjoy that the space has plenty of room though. We are very lucky to have found it. It was actually an indoor market that housed a vintage clothing store, a furniture store as well as an oddly located lingerie shop upstairs … which is now the staff area.
Did you feel like when you opened this location that there was a gap in the market or perhaps that people weren’t doing it as well as you thought it could be done?
It was a little bit of both I think. There are a couple of independent bakeries around this area but nobody was specialising in sourdough and I didn't think the bread was as good as we could have potentially made it. It was a leap of faith, we had to buy all of this stuff to show we could do it and once I’d tested the recipes, I just literally went around local stores and grew our customer base really organically. It had to be done like that because I had no reputation. Until we had our first customer it was kind of a chicken and egg scenario. What we do isn’t for everybody, some people may be shocked at four pounds for a loaf of bread. It’s almost self selecting and therefore you do end up meeting like minded people and making some really good friends along the way.
And you see it is your job to educate your customers on why your product is worth that price?
Of course, there is a lot of skill in every process. Made in the UK is also important. Everything we do is hand made and we’re hoping to, in the next year or so to shift our flour to UK grains. At the moment it [flour from UK grains] isn’t something that happens too often but it’s happening more widely, so that’s one of our challenges this year - to move production from flour sourced globally to flour sourced locally and close the loop between bakery and miller. It may cost the customer slightly more but it is our job to take them on that journey with us.
If people are invested in the product and the brand, they will be happy invest further in creating a fully Made in UK product.
I hope so, I really do.
A huge thanks to Fergus and Sharmin for taking time out of their busy morning to show us around their beautiful space.
Find more information about Brick House here: www.brickhousebread.com
Follow Brick House on Instagram: /brickhousebread