In a unit on an unlikely looking industrial estate in Leeds the delicious smell of baking pervades. Follow your nose and you will find sisters Jane and Lucy Batham hard at work in their newly opened Tarte & Berry bakery.
Surrounded by trays of scrumptious-looking brownies, the sisters are clearly in their element and they have good reason to be pleased with themselves. Their online brownie business went live just before Christmas 2014 and was run for a year from the kitchen of Jane’s flat in York. They soon realised it was not going to keep up with demand for their tasty treats which include the award-winning salted caramel brownie.
“There were trays of brownies everywhere,” recalls 31-year-old Jane. “It was also starting to becoming really hard work as we could only bake a couple of trays of 32 brownies at a time and when we have food shows we can make up to 2,000.
“We were also carrying 25kg bags of caster sugar and flour up and down the stairs to my flat.”
So they decided to expand their business. Jane sold her flat and moved to Horsforth to be close to their new bakery unit and to Lucy who already lived in Leeds.
“The bakery has made life so much easier,” says Lucy, taking up the story. “We now have the capacity to make up to 4,000 brownies a week and it also means that you can differentiate between work and home life which was becoming difficult, particularly for Jane.”
“It also means that I can spend more time developing different product ranges which I love doing, whereas before I was literally just making brownies to satisfy orders.”
This sisters’ success is partly down to the quality and originality of their products – they pride themselves on the ingredients that they use and the fact that there is nothing artificial in their products and all come in a gluten-free option – but also their hard work and love of what they do.
As well as their online shop, they take their wares to trade shows and festivals across the region and in the early days they could be seen visiting delis and cafes in York, asking them to stock their brownies. And it certainly worked. Tarte & Berry brownies are now stocked by Friends of Ham, Fodder, Mrs Atha’s, Yay Coffee and the Chilled Events Company. But the sisters have their sights on bigger things and are already in talks with some high-end names.
“It’s been an amazing 15 months,” says Lucy. “We never thought it would take off so quickly.”
Social media has also played a massive part. “I can’t imagine how we would have spread the word about our business without social media such as Instagram,” says Lucy. “I don’t think it would have grown at such a rate.”
Jane, the culinary brains behind the business, and Lucy, 26, who has a PR and marketing background, are a perfect combination.
“People ask us all the time whether we fall out, but we just don’t,” says Jane.
“We are interested in different aspects of the business, have different roles and have different personalities, and I think that helps. But we genuinely get on.
“I have always loved cooking, which is a surprise really as our mum was a terrible cook, so I have no idea where I got it from. I did a degree in business management and then went to work for Arla dairies in Leeds, which gave me valuable experience in food retail.”
It was during her time there that she noticed an advert for Gordon Ramsay’s Tante Marie Culinary Academy.
Their mother had recently died and left them some money and so Jane enrolled on the six-month course, where she learned to be a Cordon Bleu chef with a keen interest in pastry and baking.
She then went to work in London as head pastry chef in restaurants. She also worked for Bettys as a confectioner, finishing and decorating cakes.
“But I always knew I wanted to run my own business in food. I could have done wedding cakes, but it just didn’t feel right. I really wanted to do something with Lucy and that’s really how Tarte & Berry came about.”
Lucy, a self-confessed chocoholic, was the perfect choice for Jane’s business partner. She did a degree at Leeds University and still lives in the city. She worked in PR and marketing and had Asda as one of her main clients.
“I have a passion for chocolate and cake, eating it mainly,” she says.
The sisters were very close growing up in Richmond and the death of their mother, when Lucy was just 16 and Jane 21, made that bond even stronger.
“Mum had a lot of properties in Darlington and so I think that may be where we got our entrepreneuring spirit from. I think she would have liked the fact that we were in business together.”
Jane and Lucy also have an elder sister, Jenny, who is a lawyer in London.
They knew they wanted their business to be based around food, be online and high end. “We did a lot of research,” says Lucy. “We went to London to see what was in fashion.”
“We thought about cupcakes,” continues Jane. “But that had been done and we wanted something that would arrive in the post just as we had packed it in my kitchen in York.”
After much deliberation they came up with brownies, with the aim of extending the range to other cakes, and desserts.
Then there was the problem of a name. “A friend had designed some great packaging for us but we really needed a name,” says Jane. “We toyed around with lots of ideas and decided that we wanted the word Tarte in the title as it gave a French feel and then it was just a case of playing around with other foody words that went well with the words tarte and berry fitted the bill.”
The sisters experimented with different types of brownies and traybakes before choosing their favourite six. They also add seasonal specialities and pride themselves on their products’ beautiful packaging.
“They are an indulgence and we want them to look like it,” says Lucy. A box of eight brownies costs £12.95 and other flavours on offer include Raspberry and Almond Bakewells, Triple Chocolate Brownie, Pecan and Vanilla Fudge Brownie, Chocolate Orange Truffle Brownie and Berry Crumbles.
Even before their online business went live Jane and Lucy were winning awards for their business idea. “We won the BBC Good Food Award which was amazing. It meant we got a stand at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC in Birmingham and lots of great exposure.”
They have also won a small business award from entrepreneur Theo Paphitis, of Dragons’ Den fame, as well as picking up Jacqueline Gold’s Women in Business award. And these two women have big ideas.
Jane and Lucy are not afraid of hard work. They travel the country attending trade and food festivals – they already have more than a dozen lined up this year, including the Yorkshire Food and Drink Show in Millennium Square, Leeds, from June 3 to 5.
“We really love the shows and festivals and talking to people about Tarte & Berry,” says Lucy. “We love to get feedback, although having so much personally invested in the products it was hard to take criticism in the beginning but on the whole people say such lovely things.”
Tarte & Berry will also be in Leeds Trinity Kitchen in the run-up to Christmas, for the second year in a row. Expanding to new premises isn’t the end of their plans to grow the business. “We are taking on a member of staff to help us with the shows and someone to help me in the bakery, although it will initially be on a part-time basis,” says Jane.
“We will probably need to take someone on full-time next year.” They would also love to have their own shop one day.
Despite the speed of their expansion the sisters are determined that they will never compromise on quality,
“Quality is the most important thing,” says Jane. “If it’s not good enough we won’t sell it.”
“We just want everyone to know about Tarte & Berry, we are just so passionate about it,” says Lucy. “But we know it takes time.”