As was the case with so many businesses across the UK, the announcement of the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020 left Brighton and Hove bakery business Sugardough facing an uncertain future. However, not only has the business managed to keep itself operating during the long months of restrictions, but it is set to undergo expansion on April 26 this year with the opening of new premises.
The business already boasts a restaurant on Brighton’s Market Street, which has been in operation since 2015. Its other premises, situated in Hove’s Victoria Terrace, was its first unit and has been baking since 2009.
Its newest unit will be situated in the new Shelter Hall food hall on Brighton’s seafront, will be entitled ‘Tart by Sugardough’ and is set to launch on April 26 and will showcase several local chefs and host a weekly events programme.
Like its other premises, ‘Tart’ will also serve Sugardough’s signature products including hand-made cakes, tarts, croissants, and more.
Sugardough co-owner, Julie Haylett, said that the opening of a new bakery unit so soon after lockdown comes as a welcome boost for the company, which will enable the business to take on a further five flexible staff members or two new members of staff on a full-time basis.
She told The Brighton & Hove Independent: “We are really pleased [about the Shelter Hall], it’s a really nice focus to pull us out lockdown. It’s really exciting, it’s a really nice and energising site and it’s great for the staff.”
Significantly, what has helped provide Sugardough with the platform to expand post-lockdown has been its agility as a small business and the willingness of its team - from top to bottom - to pivot and find new ways to operate during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Although Sugardough's senior leadership team was left with no choice but to close its restaurant and cookbook shop while lockdown rules remained in force, the business diverted to takeaway and delivery options to allow it to continue to operate while restrictions were in place, which have proven immensely popular.
Reflecting on the previous 12 months, Haylett said: “We are quite pleased with how we have managed the last year. It was difficult and quite scary at first, having to close things down and not knowing what was going to happen. But we moved quickly and changed our offering quickly and our customers really supported us.
“The bakery has done well. We were really pleasantly surprised that people were coming, and people started coming to us in bigger numbers than we were expecting.”
In fact, the demand for Sugardough’s takeaway service grew to such an extent that Haylett and fellow co-owner, Kane McDowell, had to expand the takeaway product range and were able to increase the number of work hours for staff, which has been complemented by the government’s flexi-furlough scheme since it came into action.
Similar demand was also heaped upon the bakery’s delivery service, which saw the Sugardough team and its one delivery van having to carry out several dozen deliveries every morning, for seven days a week.
Looking back on some of the more difficult aspects of managing through the lockdown period, Haylett explained that the impact of having to close and reopen Sugardough’s businesses intermittently when restrictions were partially eased in the summer of last year before being reimplemented over autumn and winter, had been significant.
She said: "The blunt numbers of the impact are stark. We had to close our restaurant three times in the last 12 months and reopen it twice, with a third reopening now coming up. We have also had to close our cookbook shop, Cookbookbake, three times and open it twice with the third time coming up on April 12. The impact on staff and the energy involved in closing down businesses cannot be underestimated.
"Very luckily, although we had to close our tables, our bakery in Hove has been open throughout and has been very well supported by locals. This has meant that we have been able to keep on most of our staff. A year ago, we started delivering locally and we still deliver every morning seven days a week."
Although Cookbookbake, which doubles up as a demonstration kitchen, can fully reopen on April 12 in line with the return of outdoor hospitality, the Sugardough restaurant on Brighton’s Market Street will not reopen fully until May 17, the date that indoor hospitality can resume under the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.