It took 18 years from opening Gail's first bakery in Hampstead to celebrating their 100th store.

"We haven't set any speed records," smiles CEO and joint founder Tom Molnar when we meet at their Queen's Park branch.

"Speed is one thing, but you need to do things with quality. You won't find us in Piccadilly Circus. We think 'what's a great neighbourhood that needs better choices, or variety', open a bakery on a diverse street, and make sure it's as good as it can be."

The Camden Town dad-of-two is about to take those neighbourhood bakeries to the North West, with stores in Cheshire and Manchester. And Gail's is currently fitting out a new head office - with training space for baristas and chefs - in Camden's Hawley Wharf: "Bringing a bit of life to that area."Ham & High: Gail's now has 100 bakeries in London and the South EastGail's now has 100 bakeries in London and the South East (Image: Courtesy of Gail's/Luchford)

It all started with queuing in the late 1990s for Gail Mejia's mouthwatering pastries. Molnar's background involved studying at business school, and baking bread with his Sicilian grandmother.

"I called it Grandma bread. Apart from my wife she's the best cook ever," he recalls.

"When I came to London to work, it was a food disaster. The UK had a destroyed baking culture. You'd get bread wrapped in plastic maybe a couple of days old, and you had to find these little places. Two of us used to go to where Gail had this little shop behind Harrods. We'd stand in line for half an hour just for a good croissant."

Molnar and friends became partners with Mejia to help grow her business, making artisan bread for London's top restaurants, and the Baker & Spice cafes. They opened a baking hub; The Bread Factory in Hendon, and when they decided to open a shop in 2005, called it Gail's.

"I lived in Notting Hill, my friend in Golders Green. Hampstead was close to the bakery, and minutes from the tube station," says Molnar who doesn't own a car and mostly cycles.Ham & High: Gail's breadGail's bread (Image: Polly Hancock)

"It was a great place to experiment - it had consumers that care - but it was a hard start. I remember the big giant Paul's opened across the street a week before us and everyone associated great bread with France. We didn't know how to do coffee or run a till. We were committed to bringing more choice to people, and thank God for the customers who knew or remembered good bread."

Today he says: "London is different, it's hugely creative. The whole food culture has transformed in the last 20 years. People are much more interested in good food, not just what's cheap and plentiful."

Hampstead was followed by Notting Hill, then St John's Wood, as Gail's surfed the wave of London's food revival with its chef-quality loaves, cakes, pastries and sandwiches. Now, a Gail's in your neighbourhood is a badge of gentrification, although Molnar dislikes the tag of being a "posh bakery" and says many are in less wealthy areas where "real people live."Ham & High: One of Gail's bakeries, the original was in Hampstead High StreetOne of Gail's bakeries, the original was in Hampstead High Street (Image: Luchford)

"One of the most human things we do is be part of a community and we are a neighbourhood bakery."

Mejia now lives in Portugal and her 'motherdough' starter is now 30 years old but still bubbling away at The Bread Factory. It's a reminder says Molnar of how that first shop "grew out of a passion, a couple of great bakers, and a craft."

"We came in because it was having trouble navigating its success. It's a shame, everyone loves a craft product, but popularity can kill the business. It didn't make sense to me to ruin the thing that we all loved about what she had built. We have moved more slowly and consciously tried to avoid the traps, to go where the customers are and if we think we can do it then do it."Ham & High: Gail's CEO Tom MolnarGail's CEO Tom Molnar (Image: Luchford)

Having opened a baking hub in Manchester to supply the city's restaurants he's confident about once again upscaling and retaining quality. He talks about how the British system of cheap, low quality food needs to change.

"Consumers are much further ahead than the industry. It will look completely different in 10 years and we will all be healthier and happier for it."

And, after all these years, he still wants to make great bread "accessible:"

"You shouldn't have to run across town to get a loaf of bread."