Baker Scott’s investment in Bangor raises confidence in the town

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Experienced baker Scott McDonald realised a long-held dream last October by opening his own Olive Tree eatery in Bangor’s town centre by investing in the harbour front area.

Experienced baker Scott McDonald realised a long-held dream last October by opening his own Olive Tree eatery in Bangor’s town centre by investing in the harbour front area.

Scott’s decision was a much-needed and successful development in a part of the town which has seen many business setbacks such as the closure of the once popular Flagship Shopping Centre but now almost derelict at the bottom of the town’s Main Street over the past few years. Other once popular stores including TK Maxx and Eason’s newsagents and book shop also pulled out in recent years.

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“The café was something I’d been thinking about for some considerable time,” Scott, 49, explains. He brought vast experience in catering to the new venture that followed his launch of the Olive Tree Bakery, also in Bangor, in 2020.

Scott McDonald, the enterprising owner of the Olive Tree Bakery and Olive Tree Café in BangorScott McDonald, the enterprising owner of the Olive Tree Bakery and Olive Tree Café in Bangor
Scott McDonald, the enterprising owner of the Olive Tree Bakery and Olive Tree Café in Bangor

Born nearby in Groomsport village, Scott describes the café, which specialises in freshly cooked snacks as well as artisan breads, cakes and traditional Northern Irish tray bakes from the bakery, as one of the highlights of his career thus far.

“The first highlight was taking the plunge to become self-employed at the age of 29,” he continues. “Along with two of my brothers, we opened a restaurant in Portaferry overlooking picturesque Strangford Lough.”

The second was “the length of time I held the catering franchise at Bangor Golf Club”, he says. “I know that I hold the record at that club having been there almost 20 years. Leaving behind a long established and successful business to set up the bakery was nerve-racking but it has all been worth it.”

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The popularity of his freshly cooked meals and hand baked breads and cakes with club members encouraged him to diversify into the bakery and then the smart café.

After searching almost two years for the right premises for a modern bakery he eventually signed a lease – “and then the world went into its first lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic”, he remembers.

But he wasn’t deterred by the setback and the uncertainty over when the restrictions would be lifted.

“We got the bakery set up, started offering home deliveries which took off in a way more than we could have hoped for during the first year of the venture. After finding our feet we started supplying a range of freshly baked breads to a few retail outlets, and then to outdoor food markets, and before we could blink, two years had gone by. I shall be eternally grateful to all those wonderful customers who started off this journey with us. Many of them still get a weekly delivery. We appreciate too all the new customers we get to meet every time we set up a market stall,” he continues.

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The bakery continues to feature prominently at successful markets such the two weekly events in Bangor, one on longstanding waste ground overlooking Pickie Pool, and also in Newtownards.

Freshly baked breads, pies and cakes proved hugely popular with shoppers at the markets, providing important feedback about his products. He also enjoys the banter with shoppers at the outdoor events.

He continues: “Again we were very lucky towards of the end of 2021 when we had an opportunity to take over a small cafe in Bangor town centre. I jumped at the opportunity.”

He revamped the premises to create a colourful and comfortable eatery which opened its doors on October 12 2021.

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“While we are still learning every day about the business of running an eatery and the needs of customers we couldn’t be happier about how it is going,” he says.

The delivery side of the bakery business remains strong and offers a next day service for orders placed by phone and other contacts before 4pm. Sales of freshly baked goods to other retail outlets are also growing strongly. In addition, the bakery takes part in three or four food markets every week.

He loves baking and especially developing new recipes for original products for the bakery and cafe but hates the paperwork involved in running his own business, something he shares with many artisan entrepreneurs.

“I love bread, love eating it, baking it, and playing around with different recipes. I now have someone who looks after the books,” he adds.

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What does the future hold for Scott, his bakery and café? While he admits that planning in the current uncertain economic climate isn’t easy, Scott is already thinking seriously about building on the success of both ventures by expanding the bakery, which is located outside the town at Balloo, and introducing new bistro nights at the café. “I don’t believe in standing still,” he explains. “I like to think ahead and explore opportunities for growth in both short and long-terms.”

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