I hope you’ve enjoyed this series dedicated to some of the influential women on the food scene. Last but certainly not least, let me introduce you Tami from Hampstead Heath Bakery, Karma Bread,
I met Tami back last year when I came to try one of her ‘challah hedgehogs’ usually meant for kids haha! If you read part one of this series (and I highly recommend you do) you’ll know that a cinnamon bun and an impromptu conversation with a friend of Tami’s at the bakery started this whole thing. That friend of hers worked for a platform called Women In Tech who give women a voice in the world of technology and that prompted me to do this, and of course, I couldn’t not feature Tami herself! She won’t mind me saying that her love for baking came from when she was not at a great place in her life and she’s a fine example of how food can change your life in ways you’d never expect.
Here is her story….
How did Karma Bread come about and what’s the story behind it?
The first time I put my hands into dough was five years, almost to the day and it was something that had never entered my consciousness before. At the time I had been suffering from extreme anxiety following a breakdown that led to me leaving the final year of a masters in Child Psychotherapy. Quite incidentally, I found myself on a bread making morning class. The process of making and working with dough settled my restless soul in a way that nothing else could. Needless to say, I became obsessed and found myself making quite appalling bread daily that my poor family had to endure. With intense learning and absolute fascination, my handmade loaves improved. It was the one time my racing heart stilled and hands stopped shaking. It was as if my mind could rest quite literally on the workbench, the ruminating could stop and I could breathe as I kneaded the dough. Healing was taking place and I just went with the process. With a lot of reading and not much understanding, I made a sourdough starter and became quite keen on this little animal. After plying whoever I could with my bread, it wasn’t long before friends and neighbours wanted to buy it. I live in Jewish area quite saturated with kosher bakeries and at this point had no interest in making Jewish bread. I remember my first challah that I made. It contained 6 eggs and tasted like an omelette!!! I rebuffed the suggestions to make challah until I realised there was a huge demand for good handcrafted Jewish bread. I took a class at The Lighthouse Bakery with Elisabeth Weisberg and my Israeli best friend Tal taught me how to make Babka. This was the wind beneath my wings. After a huge amount of practice, taste testing and failed loaves, Karma Bread micro bakery was born. The demand for my various breads but particularly my challah became huge. I was stunned by the change my life was taking. My kitchen became a bread bakery with a little bread oven and an extra fridge in my lounge. Bowls and then boxes of dough rose in any warm place in my house I could find. Every loaf that I sold was followed by a request for feedback and these local Bushey customers were instrumental in my process of becoming a baker and the bread formulas I developed. My father would come and help me scale up on a Thursday and then would appear at my house at 5 am on a Friday morning to help and then make deliveries to my retail customers ( Panzer and La Fromagerie ) My sister also sometimes came to help and we enjoyed long sleepless Thursday nights with me prepping and her moral support and organisational skills. I have such a fondness for those early days of solitary night baking with my online community of bakers there for moral support and advice while normal people slept. Hundreds of loaves were to be created every week and the majority were to be challah for a Friday. It was a time of battling with demons, a time of healing, of pain and transformation. A karmic experience that I have so much gratitude for. It took less than two years to outgrow my home bakery and with my the help of my fathers business acumen open Karma Bread London NW3.
What are the best bits about Karma Bread?
Wow! How do I answer this…
It’s the haven that we created nestled in the Hampstead Heath community.
It’s the love that is put into everything baked and created at Karma Bread.
It’s the love we get back from our customers.
It’s the comfort it gives to our Royal Free hospital customers.
It’s the immediacy of trialling a new bread or product and the feedback from our customer! When I am recipe testing, my bread will literally go from cooling on the racks to being tested by the customers and getting their feedback.
It’s the queues out the door.
It’s the visitors from far and wide.
It’s my small team of bakers that completely understand me and my ever-changing demands.
It’s the Karma Bread team who convey our ethos to the customer and tolerate the controlled chaos with humour.
It’s my sister Sacha Isaacs who carries the front of house with strong shoulders and a huge heart.
It’s our product.
It’s my Challah.
It’s a hub for my family, particularly my girls, to gather.
Do you/have you faced any challenges in the business? If so, what and how did you overcome them?
Opening a bakery with virtually no experience provided me with every foreseeable and unforeseen problem imaginable. I think I’m still traumatised by the first 6 months of Karma Bread NW3. I remember the night before we opened the doors for the first time, trying to sleep on the bakery floor with the whirring sounds of equipment that I didn’t understand, dough over proving in the retarder and feeling abject terror about what the next day would bring. All I remember about our opening day was that we opened the doors and they came. Behind the scenes during those days, I struggled with failing equipment, exploding oven deck glass doors and huge amounts of ruined bread. Thank g-d my baker at the time knew more about commercial equipment than I did. Oh, and there was the day when I was the only baker on the busiest Jewish festival of the year as the other baker went AWOL.
Actually, I can’t think about it anymore…
How do you deal with work/life balance?
Not well in the beginning. I could not have imagined the impact of working from 4 am til 8 pm for months would have on myself and my children. I would not repeat it again without military precision planning so no one’s needs get overlooked in the process. Even though my husband at the time stepped in as much as he could, it just was not enough for my children. It’s bloody tricky. When I was home I was just too exhausted to be emotionally present enough.
What are your interests outside of work?
My children, my significant others and bread.
What advice would you give to someone else opening up their own business?
- Whatever you budget for, double it!
- Research, research, research.
- Location, location, location.
- Get into a bakery and experience the gruelling hours.
- Look after your family in the process.
- Look after yourself!
- If your passion and creativity becomes your work, keep going back to the source and rediscover your love of it time and time again. That is your USP ! Don’t lose it in running your business.
- Look after your mental health! The stress of it can push you over the edge.
What’s next for Karma Bread ?
Now that would be telling! Watch this space ….
As the Spice Girls once said … Girl Power! x