Mina Allsop and Sam Havis have six degrees between them and run an award-winning gluten-free bakery. Catherine Scott reports.
“I think we are definitely the best gluten-free baker in the UK,” says Mina Allsop the founder of Wildcraft Gluten Free bakery in Leeds. It may sound arrogant, but then you may not have tasted their gluten-free breads and cakes.
And don’t take my or Mina’s word for it. Wildcraft has just received three awards in the recent FreeFrom awards. They received a Gold Award for their Sprouted Buckwheat Sourdough Loaf, Silver for the Brioche, and Overall Winner for Best Product from a new start-up.
“We just couldn’t believe it when our name was read out,” says Mina’s business partner Sam Havis. “We were alongside all the big supermarkets and then our name was called out, it was incredible. We knew what we were doing was good but it always good to have that confirmed from within the industry.”
Mina, who is originally from Kenya, moved to the UK to do a degree at Warwick University.
She had always been into foraging, something she says she inherited from her mother.
“On the campus in Warwick there were these amazing blackberries which no one picked and the groundsman told me they were just for the animals.”
But when she moved to Leeds to study for her PhD she started to make jams and other products from foraging which she would sell and that gave her the idea for the bakery.
“I used to go to all these farmers’ markets and there were all these delicious breads and cakes, but I couldn’t eat any of them because I am a coeliac.”
A self-proclaimed foodie, she became so fed up with the gluten-free substitutes, especially for bread, that she decided to make her own.
“I am academic and there had to be a scientific answer to making good gluten-free bread. I applied science and good deal of trial and error.”
She started experimenting in her kitchen at home in Moortown, Leeds and selling her goods on farmers’ markets, which would invariably sell out.
When a contact said a unit had become available at a small industrial unit in Leeds, her husband encouraged her to take it.
“I had taken over the kitchen and the dining room and we had a young daughter, I think he was keen for me to start the bakery,”
And so she gave up her job in academia and opened Wildcraft Gluten Free Bakery in September 2016 and posted the opening on FaceBook, they now have 4,500 followers.
“I couldn’t believe it, hundreds of people came, at the time I had two recipes our buckwheat sourdough and our whoopee pies.” They now make 88 different GF products
Mum-of-four Sam joined 18 months ago and is the yin to Mina’s yang. “I also has a career in academia and worked for the National Childbirth Trust for 15 years, Says Sam who is also coeliac and so can’t eat anything with gluten in.
“I suppose I am the sensible one and Mina is the more creative one.” The pair had never met before until Sam, a fellow coeliac who hadn’t eaten ‘real’ bread in years was blown away by Mina’s sprouted buckwheat sourdough. She quit her job and joined Mina on a quest to share artisan gluten-free food with the world.
“I had a young daughter and was so busy that I didn’t realise that I did need some help. Sam came along and offered to be my business partner and that was that.”
They say it is more like a marriage than a friendship, but it seems to work. Although it was tested when Mina announced that she was pregnant with twins last November.
“I did have a panic about how I was going to cope.” But having taken on a bakery manager and a head baker, not only did they manage they have expanded their range, branched out into gluten-free wedding cakes and are now looking to expand.
“We have found somewhere that we are very excited about which we hope will not only give us extra space for the bakery but a community cafe as well,” says Mina.
“People come to the bakery now to buy their bread and cakes and share their health problems with us which is great. We are like a big family.”
They aloso have a growing wholesale market supplying restaurants and cafes with gluten-free products including pizza bases and pitta bread.
“We are more expensive,” says Sam. “Bur when you think it takes four days to make our sprouted buckwheat sourdough it isn’t that expensive. and people who can’t eat gluten are so used to paying more for really inedible bread that they are happy to pay for something delicious.
“They can keep it in the freezer and just defrost a few slices when they need it which makes it much more cost-effective.”
So bad is the quality of many GF product they are looking to rebrand.
“You say something is gluten-free and people immediatley think it has to be awful,” says Mina.
“But our products are delicious in their own right and we believe can be enjoyed by everyone. So we are going to rebrand as a ‘FreeFrom’ bakery. Everything we do is vegetarian and a lot of it is vegan, such as our best selling whoopie pies.”“
These intrepid women have six degrees between them, none of which are in food or business-related subjects. Together, this unlikely duo are gaining a reputation throughout the UK.
“I am a Christian and Mina is a Muslim, and we are very different people but somehow it works,” says Sam.
www.wildcraftbakery.com Twitter @WildcraftBakery.