Dunns the doughnut kings mark 200 years
- Credit: Marie Mangan
Baking goes back in Lewis Freeman’s family for six generations - when his great great great grandfather came to London on the back of a hay wagon and got a job in a Highgate bakery.
The 25-year-old entrepreneur, who took over Crouch End’s much loved Dunns from his father Christopher in 2017, has just opened a second branch in Muswell Hill.
It’s a fitting expansion in a year when the Freemans celebrate 200 years of artisan baking. Lewis’s grandfather David bought Dunns in 1946. His great grandfather Charles had worked there as a pastry confectioner in the early 1900s before opening his own bakery in Enfield.
But it was Robert Freeman, who came from Northamptonshire in 1820, and opened the first Freeman bakery in Highgate Hill.
Lewis, who was raised and still lives in Crouch End, knew at 15 that he would join the family business. By 11 he was helping his dad in the bakery and as a teen he spent every Sunday in the shop.
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“Dunns has always been an integral part of my life," he said. "It’s great to be able to carry on the family tradition 200 years on. I’m very excited about our new shop in Muswell Hill, where Dunns previously had a shop before the Second World War.”
Christopher applied no pressure while Lewis studied finance at Reading University, but the confirmation that he would continue the family tradition delighted both his father and grandfather.
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Lewis then spent 18 months working alongside Christopher and baker Ron Lacey to learn his trade. Ron, like many of the 50 staff has worked at Dunns for decades, across bread, patisserie, confectionery & pastry, cake decoration, sandwiches and the shop floor.
“We have a fantastic team, with a range of skills from masters of their trades to school children working at weekends,” says Lewis.
Hornsey-raised Rebecca Stapleton, 34, has worked there since she was 16 - from a Saturday job with school holiday shifts, to supervisor and now manager of the Muswell Hill branch.
“I have always enjoyed working here. When I first started I was super shy and the interaction with the customers really helped build my confidence. Being a small family business, we’re all respected, treated as individuals and valued. It’s great to run the new shop. The people of Muswell Hill have been so welcoming and happy to have us.”
Neil Pennell was head chef at Selfridges and the original Patisserie Valerie before becoming Dunns’ cake decorator ten years ago.
“It’s a really happy place to work, always busy. Every day is different with a chance to be creative. It is amazing that we carried on all through the first lockdown. I helped with the bread production. We all mucked in. Dunns is an institution and we always go the extra mile for our customers.”
It was Neil who was tasked with decorating nine identical London bus birthday cakes with ‘Happy Birthday Eve’ on them for a storyline in BBC drama Killing Eve.
“It was perhaps my most unusual commission,” says Lewis who was sworn to secrecy at the time.
“It was only when I watched it and saw Eve throwing the cake off the top of a building that I understood why they needed so many!” The Freemans have always used traditional baking methods including long dough fermentation, so were well placed to meet the recent demand for sourdough.
Their Crouch End sourdough has now taken over from the crusty bloomer as their bestselling loaf, and cream cakes have made way for patisserie. But top sellers remain sausage rolls (with meat from local butcher Morley’s) and jam doughnuts.
Using flour from London’s only working mill, Wright’s in Ponders End, they have baked period-appropriate cakes for Call The Midwife, and celebration cakes for The Beckhams, Rio Ferdinand, Kate Garraway and Victoria Coren-Mitchell - who namechecked Dunns in her TV quiz show ‘Only Connect’ last month.
Reacting to a contestant who had spotted Bob Dylan in the shop, she said: “I once got a birthday cake there. Lovely!” and joked: “There are plenty of other bakeries, although Dunns in Crouch End is the best.”
Renowned for marking national occasions in cakes and doughnuts, they run a fun predictive poll every election counting the number of doughnuts sold for each political party.
Lewis was quick to act during lockdown in March. Realising that people isolating would be missing out, he set up an online shop for local deliveries.
“On the first day I delivered 20 orders on my bike. Day two I had 60 orders, so I used my car. By day three I had 120 orders and had to hire a van!" says Lewis who has now teamed up with Pedal-Me to carry out the daily deliveries.
Christopher, who lived above the shop as a child and took over from his father in the early 70s, is proud of founding National Doughnut Week which has raised nearly £1m for The Children’s Trust over three decades. He’s also the Master of the Worshipful Company of Bakers providing training scholarships for vulnerable young people and supporting food banks with surplus Dunns bread.
Ever community spirited they give a doughnut to finishers in the annual YMCA Crouch End Fun Run and have supported local soup kitchens for three decades.
Kit Greveson, who runs the kitchen at St Peter in Chains, said: “Words cannot express our gratitude for the amazing support and dedicated commitment of Lewis and Dunns to ensure those in society who find themselves without a roof over their heads and regular income have something tasty to eat every Saturday evening.”
Christopher added: “Crouch End has always been a fantastic community and I thoroughly enjoyed my 44 years at Dunns. I actually miss getting up early but things move on, and there’s nothing like a young person to generate life into a business. Dunns is in safe hands. Lewis is doing a much better job than I could have at that age.”
Lewis adds: “It’s a privilege to have such a great family tradition to learn from and build on. Some might say opening a shop in a pandemic is risky but I’m confident the people of Muswell Hill will love our bakery as much as our loyal Crouch End customers do.”