Sunday, 24 October 2021

Baking is a labour of love for family business

AFTER almost six decades in the town, Lawlor’s considers itself to be Henley’s baker.

AFTER almost six decades in the town, Lawlor’s considers itself to be Henley’s baker.

The company was founded in 1948 by John Lawlor and is now run by a five-strong team that includes his son Mike.

The run-up to Christmas is one of its busiest times of the year, so the staff are working hard to supply other local businesses with festive treats.

Mr Lawlor Snr first opened a small bakery in 1948 in Hampstead.

His son joined the business after completing his national service in 1956, the same year the business moved to Henley after acquiring a bakery at No 14 Reading Road.

The premises doubled as a retail outlet and the family acquired a second shop in Duke Street.

In the early Sixties, W H Smith bought the Duke Street premises, so the Lawlor’s shop moved to what is now the Loch Fyne restaurant in Market Place.

Mr Lawlor, 79, recalled: “We were quite busy and it wasn’t too bad at all but then the whole scene in Henley changed when all the supermarkets turned up. They weren’t here when we first came — it was all small shops.”

In 1972, Lawlor’s left Market Place and for about the next 10 years operated from only the Reading Road site. Then it acquired a property in Market Place Mews, where it stayed until 2003.

In the early Eighties the shop and bakery in Reading Road were closed.

The business is now based at the Henley Enterprise Park, the former Empstead Works, off Greys Road, and has been mainly wholesale since 2003.

Mr Lawlor explained: “Shops for us had become a liability. It was too much hard work and there wasn’t much in it. It became impractical and expensive.”

When he joined the business he helped his father, cutting bread and making deliveries in a van.

In those early days, he would deliver not just to businesses but also individual houses but this practice stopped in the late Fifties.

When his father retired in 1972 Mike took over and a few years later he took on a business partner, Anne Baker, who had started working for the company as a van driver.

Now Mrs Baker’s husband Nick, son Chris and daughter Nicola Taylor also work for Lawlor’s.

Among their customers are the Angel on the Bridge and the Little Angel pubs, Henley Rugby Club and Henley Rowing Club.

The business has also been a partner involved with the Living Advent Calendar.

The company band — Anne and the Doughboys — have performed with Mrs Baker on saxophone and clarinet, Mr Lawlor playing the double bass and friend Steve Ward on guitar.

The bakery provided tasty treats for visitors to enjoy during their shows.

Mrs Taylor said: “You have got to try to keep ahead by doing different things. People come to us and they’ll be specific about what they want and and hopefully we can provide it.

“We still get people who used to come years ago. It’s difficult not having a shop because people may remember going there when they were younger. We still see ourselves as part of the community. When you have been in the town for such a long time you’re part of it. We try to make it happy and jolly. If you can make something lovely and people want to buy it, what more can you ask for? It’s full of love and laughter and not too much blood, sweat and tears hopefully!”

Mrs Taylor, who learned to bake as a child, said all Lawlor’s products are made to secret family recipes and can be adapted if needed.

“We don’t tell anyone the secret,” she said. “When people ask how we make things I say ‘use Mary Berry!’”

The team work Mondays to Saturdays and if they’re especially busy, such as this time of year, they will start as early as 3am.

Mrs Baker said: “We’re not scared of hard work and we do get on well. Because we’re at very close quarters you could easily not get on.

The firm’s Christmas specialities include rum truffles and stollen, which takes three days to make due to the mix of sponge and dough.

Other tricky creations include an 18in by 30in harvest wheatsheaf.

To make a loaf of bread — the simplest product — takes about two hours from creating the dough to it coming out of the oven.

Mr Lawlor, who starts work at 3am every day, says baking is a labour of love and he is not thinking about retirement.

“I’m going to carry on until I’m 139 — I’ve got no plans,” he said.

Asked the secret of his success, he said: “It’s the enthusiasm for the product and experience and dedication to it. Basically, we enjoy baking.”

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