Backstage at Barbakan

barbakan bakerEvery Chorltoner knows that if you’re on Manchester Road at a certain time of day, you breathe in the aroma and smile. The bread’s in the oven at Barbakan and all’s well with the world.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this family business is a Chorlton institution. Originally established over 50 years ago, the Najduch family has been at the helm for 30 years now. Craft baking is in their blood.

“Food’s a passion with us,” says Frankie Najduch, daughter of owner Stefan and now a director of the company. “We were brought up to respect and value good food. I grew up with Barbakan and just can’t imagine our family without it.”

Frankie left behind a career in fashion retail management with Hollister and All Saints to come back and run the family firm. “I absolutely couldn’t bear the thought of Barbakan being sold if dad decided to retire. What’s more wonderful than food? There’s no limit to what you can do here – every day is different.”

They’re gearing up for Christmas at Barbakan – seasonal stock is arriving and production of their famous Viennese Mince Pies (which Chorltoners actually buy all year-round) is being stepped up. They’ll sell well over 8,000 in December.

“Some of the mince pies you buy in supermarkets have been in freezers for months on end. Even the in-store bakeries use frozen product. We bake fresh every single day. Anything we don’t sell on the day is given, still fresh, to local homeless shelters.”

There are three shifts of bakers at Barbakan, covering the full 24 hours, baking 15,000 loaves a week – all from the back of the shop. The process begins with the 3pm shift, which starts on the loaves which need the longest proving time – it takes a total of 12 hours to make a baguette. The ovens are only switched off on a Saturday (because the shop is closed on Sunday). Most of the team are Polish craft bakers, who take enormous pride in their work. Some have been at Barbakan for 30 years.

“Everyone has an individual specialism and some have top secret recipes. If I try to cost a particular type of loaf, it can be difficult when they’re reluctant to give me the precise amounts and ingredients,” she laughs. “So many people have asked us what’s in our Chorlton Sourdough starter! And you know what? The bakers won’t tell me!”

The team makes 300 Chorlton Sourdoughs a day – many are sold over the counter, but they also go to around 100 wholesale customers, which include Croma, Moose and Battery Park. “I like to shop and trade locally,” says Frankie. “You know what you’re getting, you know where things come from. Food is ‘cleaner’, if you see what I mean. Look at our bread ingredients – wheat flour, water, salt.

“It’s also lovely – and you see it all the time in the shop – to bump into friends and have a chat. People in the Trafford Centre won’t ask after your children!”

After the hurly-burly of Christmas food, gifts and hampers, the shop will close for a week in January for a refit. Frankie’s intention is to create more space, improve access and make it easier to browse in the deli. Phase two, later in the New Year will tackle the outdoor terrace.

For Frankie, it’s all very different from her fashion career: “I’m always covered in flour or sugar, I can’t grow my nails or wear my hair down. At 5 o’clock, when the chocolate cakes come out of the oven, it’s  almost impossible to leave.

“I absolutely wouldn’t have it any other way,” she smiles.