Nothing half baked about Danby business

Ian and Fiona Claherty outside the Stonehouse bakery in Danby''w131307a
Ian and Fiona Claherty outside the Stonehouse bakery in Danby''w131307a

Emigrating, launching a new business and getting married all within the space of a fortnight probably isn’t most people’s ideal but for Ian and Fiona Clacherty it seems to have worked out just fine.

This Easter they have celebrated 20 years of being in business at Stonehouse Bakery in Danby and show that despite tough financial times everywhere else, village life in rural communities is as important as ever.

Fiona Claherty in the bakery''w131307e

Fiona Claherty in the bakery''w131307e

After what has seemed a long, hard winter good weather over the Easter period brought out the holidaymakers and vistors and the bakery, plus the tea rooms have been busy supplying customers with cuppas, cakes and cobs.

But without support of locals during the quieter times, Ian and Fiona say they wouldn’t be in business during the summer.

Fiona said: “The cafe is open all year round and there are times in January where it is hardly worth opening but we have quite a local trade. The surgery opposite helps and people pick up their prescription and come in and have a coffee.

“But we do massively rely on locals and without them we would not be able to open the tearoom all year round. We rely on word of mouth and have just done our website this year and we have been surprised at how many people look at it.

A selection of Stonehouse Bakery breads ''w131307d

A selection of Stonehouse Bakery breads ''w131307d

“When people have our products in Whitby a lot of the tourists will come out here and holidaymakers come back year on year.”

There is plenty for them to come back for too.

From a small back room in a building which is thought to date back to the 1600s emerges a whole range of tasty treats from Victoria sponges to chocolate roulades, while at a unit at Liverton Mines staff are busy baking up bread puddings, treacle clices, carrot cakes and shortbreads among other sweet treats.

And then there is the bread, which if you ask most locals what they know about Stonehouse Bakery, they will almost all say something about sundried tomato and green olive bread.

Stonehouse Bakery jams and marmalades''w131307c

Stonehouse Bakery jams and marmalades''w131307c

As with most signature dishes at cafes and restaurants the secret to the success of the recipe is not for sharing but Fiona adds: “The people that helped us set up 20 years ago had a bakery in Bristol and over the years we have messed around with different things.

“We are in the process of trying to make a spelt bread. We don’t give our recipes out and don’t say what’s in them but we have built our business on the bread, that is what we are known for because nobody else was doing it at the time.”

They now supply the Magpie Cafe, Shepherd’s Purse, Monks Haven, Radfords butchers at Sleights, Jacksons at Ruswarp and the Courtyard Cafe to name but a few and have a team of 36 staff from bakers to delivery drivers who spread the Stonehouse Bakery word - and its goods - as far afield as Osmotherley, Helmsley and Great Ayton.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

Ian and Fiona Claherty outside the Stonehouse bakery in Danby 20 years ago''w131307b

Ian and Fiona Claherty outside the Stonehouse bakery in Danby 20 years ago''w131307b

When Fiona and Ian first set up the business they were both living in Ian’s native South Africa where Fiona had met him while on holiday. He was working in a chocolate factory and Fiona’s dad had spotted that the business was up for sale.

Fiona said: “My dad phoned and said there was a cafe for sale and would we be interested. They wanted me to come back but I was only 19 at the time.

“We were most interested and ended up coming back to live here. We got married and started the business within two weeks. We hadn’t even thought about it but once the offer was on the table - Ian had the food technology side and I was passionate about baking.”

As for a honeymoon they only had time for two nights at Dunsley Hall and Fiona admits times were tough at the beginning.

She added: “He used to work a night shift baking bread and I would work a day shift with my mum. I needed a van for deliveries so he would come off the night shift and sleep in the back of the van outside here.

“It was quite difficult at the beginning but you don’t think about that, you just get on with it.”

Fiona and Ian have also had to get on with the effects of the recession and think about their business in new ways ... something they had never needed to do before.

She said: “What’s been the most challenging aspect? I would say the last four years has been more of a challenge than anything.

“From when we started out up until five years ago it was ok and we just got on with it.

“Now we think about marketing ourselves and selling ourselves a bit more. Before, we never had to but it is the same for all businesses - it is changing times.”

While the way the business is driven forward, some things have and always will stay the same though...a bit like village life in a way because the bakery and tearoom remains as much part of village life now as it did back then before the influx of takeaways and high street chain big brand coffe shops.

“As for the products...we have always used fresh ingredients from scratch and nothing is pre-made. That is why we have done so well.”