Dromore baker crowned Northern Ireland’s bread hero by the Tiptree World Bread Awards with Brook Food

Mark Douglas from Dromore, in Co Down has been crowned Northern Ireland’s Bread Hero in the prestigious Tiptree World Bread Awards with Brook Food at an event in Britain.

By Sam Butler
Saturday, 23rd October 2021, 5:00 pm

Mark launched Krazi Baker eight years ago after being inspired by food markets in continental Europe. He came to the realisation that no one was selling bread baked on-site in Northern Ireland and many traditional Irish breads such as potato cakes and soda and treacle farls were gradually disappearing.

“You’d see every product under the sun, but never bread baked on-site. I was wondering how to do this and when I went back to work, the answer was staring me in the face - hotplates and soda bread.” says Mark, who has baking experience stretching back over 30 years.

He served his ‘time’ and honed his skills at small bakeries near his home.

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Mark, the Krazi Baker, working in his small bakery

Mark griddles the breads on gas-fired hotplates on site at markets, such as Newtownards, Comber and Carrickfergus and agri-food shows including The Balmoral Show, Castlewellan Show, Clogher Valley Show and The Antrim Garden Show.

Customers wolf down his hand crafted bakes, which include iconic items such as soda farls, potato bread and Great Taste Award winning potato apple as fast as he makes them. His ethos is to bake bread by hand with no additives, preservatives or bread improvers... “just good natural bread”. 

He also bakes wheaten loaves, scones and shortbread biscuits, the latter winning a UK Great Taste Award. He makes time too for a bit of banter with the customers, something he clearly values.

Mark’s business, which also includes teaching at his ‘Krazi Soda School’, was hit hard when the restrictions of Covid-19 halted markets, shows and cookery classes everywhere. Mark, who is self-employed, saw his livelihood disappear virtually overnight due to the lockdowns from the pandemic. There was no clear indication when they would reopen again.

Mark Douglas, Krazi Baker, Dromore, Co Down, has been crowned Northern Ireland’s Bread Hero by the Tiptree World Bread Awards with Brook Food

Not to be defeated, Mark switched to his garage which had been converted into a small bakery for his classes, invested in a bigger oven, packaging equipment and established a home delivery service, with deliveries being made across country Down in a pink Fiat 500 by his two sons, Anton and Brandon.

“We sat down as a family, put our heads together and came up with a solution,” he remembers. “We reckoned that if we couldn’t reach our customers because the markets were closed then we’d have to go out to them. Our aim was to ensure a steady cash flow that would enable the business to keep ticking over. It’s was shattering to see my business on the ropes after all my hard work in developing a successful artisan bakery”

A one-man business, he didn’t qualify for significant financial packages from the Northern Ireland Executive.

It was a worrying time for Mark, who has been regularly hired by Invest NI, Food NI, Tourism NI/ Tourism Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise to showcase local breads here as well as in the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain.

The delivery initiative proved successful. He used social media to promote the delivery service….and loyal customers from the markets responded by placing orders for packs of his breads. Other artisan businesses also gave their support by stocking the breads including sourdough loaves.

He’s resilient and was back at the markets when the restrictions were relaxed, encouraged and assisted by wife Karen and his two sons. George Armstrong, a close friend who helps out by serving customers on his stalls, was another source of encouragement and support. The business is up and running strongly again.

In normal times, the Tiptree World Bread Awards celebrate the bread; loaves from around the country would be delivered for assessment by a panel of expert judges.

Building on the great success of last year, the awards once again celebrated the UK’s Bread Heroes - the people behind the loaves: from farmers and millers, to bakers and educators.  Covid concerns made it impossible to stage the usual gala presentation in London.

Hundreds of nominations were sent in from across the UK. “All the nominees in this year’s Awards truly deserve recognition for their generous, considerate and often altruistic initiatives to help others,” says Stephen Hallam, chairman of the Judges. 

Thirteen regional winners were selected by the judging panel. In addition to the regional winners, there were a selection of special awards: Brook Food Dream Team Award, KitchenAid Home Baker Hero, Shipton Mill Real Bread Hero, Tiptree Outstanding Achievement Award, Wright’s Flour Award for Innovation, Zeelandia Award for Sustainability.

One of the judges, Britt Box, She Who Bakes, adds: “‘It has been another strange year and it is so lovely to read stories of the bread heroes who have carried on, diversified, given back and risen to the challenge (pun intended!). They are all an absolute credit to their communities.”

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