How sustainable is Hampstead's great bakery boom?

Tami Isaacs Pearce at Karma Bread

Tami Isaacs Pearce at Karma Bread - Credit: Hannah Wu

Hampstead High Street has changed significantly over the past year. Several shops and restaurants have closed down, leaving empty premises dotted around the village – visible scars of the pandemic’s effect on local businesses. 

But while retail and hospitality have suffered, one industry in particular has thrived, and has come out of lockdown with an even stronger presence in the area: baking. 

Classed as an essential business, bakeries were allowed to stay open throughout each lockdown, and benefited from being able to sell takeaway coffees and snacks to people out on their daily walks. 

Ole & Steen is just the latest addition, and it is fair to wonder if a place this size can sustain the recent boom once Covid-19 lockdowns are a distant memory.

Ole & Steen opened in Hampstead High Street in March

Ole & Steen opened in Hampstead High Street in March - Credit: Polly Hancock

Having operated in the Hampstead area since 1989, family-run business Roni’s long pre-dates the boom. 

“This is a Jewish bakery, and there’s a large Jewish community in the areas we have chosen to open in: Hampstead, West Hampstead, Belsize Park. If we were the same as Gail's or Paul's or any of the other ones on the High Street, we'd just be another bakery”, said Nicole Lanzman, who said she is not worried about the new competition.

“If you look around, every single cafe and bakery is full of people. At the weekends there are queues.” 

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While being a small business is not without its challenges – “It’s not easy, because there are people around who would rather go to Pret because they know what they're getting” – ultimately, Roni’s views its independence “as an asset” as it allows it to tailor each location to its clientele.

Sacha Isaacs and Tami Isaacs Pearce at Karma Bread

Sacha Isaacs and Tami Isaacs Pearce at Karma Bread - Credit: Hannah Wu

The owner of Karma Bread in South End Green, Tami Isaacs Pearce, puts her bakery’s ongoing success down to the fact that it makes “real bread and real products, and everything is made on site”. 

Tami also seems unperturbed about the ever-increasing competition.

“There's always a little hype when a new bakery opens," she said. "I remember when the Heath Street Bakehouse opened, and that made me hold my breath initially, but there was no impact. And then Bread Ahead came with their doughnuts and, again, no change at all."

But Tami is not so sure that all the bakeries on the High Street will be able to cope with the increased competition. 

“Now Ole & Steen has got there I reckon it's going to knock the socks off most of them there. If you go there now, you'll see where the queues are.
“Although Ole & Steen are a big chain, they haven't reached the suburbs yet. And I think Gail's has infiltrated everywhere, and it's becoming a bit Gregg's. Of course I like what they do, I respect them, but I think that now it's just becoming a bit pedestrian. Their offer is good but it's the same same and it's just everywhere you look." 

Gail’s Bakery CEO and co-founder Tom Molnar

Gail’s Bakery chief executive and co-founder Tom Molnar - Credit: Gail's Bakery

Gail’s was founded in Hampstead in 2005 and CEO Tom Molnar said heavy competition in the industry is not a new phenomenon.

Asked whether the area can sustain this many bakeries, Tom said: “I was asked the same question 16 years ago when we opened. People and ideas have come and gone over the years – it was only a few years ago that there was a McDonald's, Starbucks and Maison Blanc bakery on the High Street.”

One sentiment shared by all the bakeries is gratitude towards the Hampstead community. 

The husband and wife team behind Flask Walk's Boulangerie Bon Matin, Eleanor and Dahmane Ladjassa, believe the community prefers to support independent businesses and recognises good quality food - two traits they say have helped their business survive the last year. 

Eleanor said: “We’re incredibly passionate about what we do, and we spend a lot of time making sure that the quality of ingredients is really good. We’re really lucky that we’ve been so supported by the local community recently, and we have a team that knows our customers by name.”

Despite their conviction in the quality of their offering, Eleanor and Dahmane admit that rising competition, especially with larger chains, makes it hard to predict whether the number of bakeries in Hampstead is sustainable.