Bakery chain eyes further growth after snapping up production site

Two Magpies Bakery, Timber Hill. Steve Magnall, Director & Co Owner of Two Magpies Bakery

Steve Magnall, director and co -owner of Two Magpies Bakery has big ambitions to expand the business - Credit: Brittany Woodman

There's no lack of ambition when it comes to the future trajectory of fast-growing East Anglian bakery chain Two Magpies.

Started just nine years ago from one shop in Southwold selling top quality baked products made on site, it has been on the rise ever since.

It already has a string of seven bakery-cafés in Southwold, Aldeburgh, Woodbridge, Darsham, Norwich, Holt and Blakeney as well as a popular cookery school at Darsham and seven branded vans.

And this year, the £7.5m turnover business run by founder Rebecca Bishop and co-owner Steve Magnall and employing a 150-strong workforce is poised to take another major leap as it moves production to an 11,000sq ft site at Walpole, near Halesworth - once home to the old Marybelle dairy. Steve got the keys to the 10-year lease site in April, with a view to refurbishing it and kitting it out as a bakery factory and opening it in the autumn.

Two Magpies Bakery, Timber Hill. Steve Magnall, Director & Co Owner of Two Magpies Bakery. Pictures:

Two Magpies Bakery's Steve Magnall pictured at the Timber Hill, Norwich, café - Credit: Brittany Woodman

It's an exciting moment, and Steve - who has a background working in senior positions in the corporate world, then as chief executive of St Peter's Brewery at Bungay - is full of enthusiasm for the next phase of the business's development.

It will certainly be expanding, he says - only the speed of its ascent is up for debate. That's down to whether he can secure the support of investors to accelerate the process. But investors or not, he is determined it will grow.

Earlier this year, the Norwich café's layout was re-jigged to create 22 more covers as post-pandemic business boomed. Even in the third week in January as a new wave of the pandemic was subsiding, a new café was launched in Woodbridge after a speedy 10-day turnaround. Already this is doing very, very well, says Steve. "It's our largest site to date in terms of business," he says.

Two Magpies Bakery, Timber Hill. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

A customer is served at the Two Magpies Bakery in Norwich - Credit: Brittany Woodman

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The Norwich café was opened at a particularly inauspicious moment. Six weeks after launch in 2019, the UK entered its first pandemic lockdown. Up until that point, it had been doing "really well", says Steve.

The pandemic was devastating to all hospitality and tourism businesses but Two Magpies quickly pivoted to a "click and collect" formula for its then home-bound clientele. It has powered through challenges from staffing to supply sticking steadfastly to its successful formula of high quality baked goods from sourdough loaves and pastries made in-house, good coffee and tasteful decor.

"Post Covid when people felt safer we slowly opened all the sites and obviously expanded. We got offered a site in Blakeney that we opened last Easter. That's a wonderful site," he said. 

Then they were offered another 110-cover premises within the former Bakers and Larners department store in Holt.

Two Magpies is the sort of business which is seen as a high street draw - and so the offers keep coming.

By April the Norwich business was back to where it had been pre-pandemic on volumes and Steve is "really pleased" with progress. Pre-lockdown it employed 60 people compared to 150-plus now.

"The advantage of coming from a corporate background is you do business risk assessment all the time," says Steve. "You just have to respond as quickly as you can."

They were quick off the mark getting items like perspex screens up during the Covid crisis. Now he and business owners like him must try to contend with a new range of challenges from rocketing costs and wage bills to a big hospitality VAT hike from 7.5% n the depths of the pandemic to 20% - and belt-tightening consumers. Everything from flour to packaging has leapt up in price. Overall,  costs have risen hugely. As well as the £70k facelift at Norwich, they have also refurbished the Aldeburgh premises. It all costs, he says, and while some grant aid is available success in scooping these in not universal.

"But we'll manage our way through this and continue growing our business," he says. "We have managed through two years of turmoil and still grown."

Two Magpies Bakery, Timber Hill. Millie Hunt, Front of House at Two Magpies. Pictures: Brittany Wood

Millie Hunt, working front of house at Two Magpies in Norwich - Credit: Brittany Woodman

In 2013, the turnover of the business was £620k but every year since it has grown. While Steve focuses on operations, business partner Rebecca is now busy writing her own cookery book.

He would like to grow the business at a rate of several sites a year for the next five years. People keep knocking on their door to take premises on, he says.

"I'm looking for angel investors to expand," he says. Potential future towns in his sights include Bury St Edmunds, Cambridge, Chelmsford and Colchester, and decent-sized towns in between, as well as quite a few sites in Norfolk. Investors or not, the reality is they will consolidate and carry on.

"If I can't secure that, the reality is we'll consolidate. We'll face the challenges of costs increases and open one or two sites next year rather than three or four," he says.

On his side is the chain's strong brand. "People think they have discovered something when they come to us which is really important - the connection with the consumer," says Steve.

Two Magpies Bakery, Timber Hill. Pictures: Emily Vincent

Customers at Two Magpies Bakery in Norwich - Credit: Emily Vincent