It seems somehow right that there’s such a natural flow to the story of how Bara Menyn Bakery and Café came into being. Its creator is, after all, a philosophy graduate and he tells the tale in such a way that the three year journey from breadline to bread-making sounds like the neatest of logic.
Having returned from university to his native Ceredigion Jack Smylie Wild was languishing in Llandysul, without work and with plenty of time to think. When the muse arrived it was loaf shaped and not especially appealing. “I just couldn’t get good bread, I didn’t have a job at the time so I was struggling – I could have travelled and bought good bread but only in theory – I was fed up with the sliced white stuff...I said to my partner, "we’ve got to do something about this", and she said, “Well, the obvious solution is you learn to make bread.'”
Thus prompted, he got himself a couple of books and embarked on the long lone journey through trial and error that is the apprenticeship of the self- taught. “I made a few loaves, some half-edible, some not so edible at all.” But the more he practised, the better it got, until he reached the point where he was knocking out some pretty decent stuff, the kind of stuff in fact that people might be happy to pay him for – if the thought had entered his mind. Which it hadn’t.
I didn’t have a job (it is surprisingly rare to find anyone seeking a philosopher in the jobs section of the Cambrian News)...I didn’t have a car, didn’t have any money. So there weren’t many options available to me...and again it was my partner Seren who said, “You could start selling this to some local shops and restaurants.” I hadn’t even thought about it, so I kind of slept on it, ruminated on it, and thought, “yeah, why not?”
This was small-scale production – 20 loaves or so a day made in the home kitchen – but it was a start and by now the quest to make ever better bread had entered the territory that lies somewhere between passion and obsession. “Then serendipity came into the mix, as it usually does,” he says wisely (philosophers know about these things). “A friend said that Ben and Lucy at the Organic Fresh Food Company in Lampeter have built themselves a bakery but were still looking for someone who knew about sourdough after six months. So I rocked up and said, 'I heard you guys are looking for a baker...I’m here.'”
He spent six months there in which he learned the mechanics of baking bread on a commercial basis, leaving his home in Llandysul at 2am and driving down the Teifi Valley to work. Ben and Lucy were an inspiration – young, enterprising and full of belief that a quality food business could thrive in rural West Wales. Their example gave Jack the strength to think he could do it for himself: “I got the word out I was looking for a space to put a small bakery in.” The answer came in the form of a Cardigan side-street premises just off the main drag. “Such a gorgeous space but I was terrified as well, because I thought I can’t just do bread in here. I’ll need to set a café up... It was daunting – some people tried to dissuade me – and there was an awful lot to learn, but I learned as I went along. I guess there was a certain pluckiness involved, a confidence that if the product was right people would come and I could wing it.”
And come they did. Drawn in by the matchless aroma of freshly baked bread and the chance to get their hands on some of the best sourdough made not just in Wales but the whole of the UK.
Of course, it’s hard work, but on that subject, Jack is, well – philosophical. “Yeah, the hours are long...but it’s worth it, you’re your own boss, it doesn’t feel like work, it’s just what you do. I feel really proud now, it's been two years. We’ve got a great bunch of regulars who come in for their daily bread, for their breakfast or lunch or just for coffee. It's become a kind of community space and it’s great to create jobs in the area and support so many sustainable local producers. After two years I can breathe a sigh of relief and say, ‘Yeah its worked,’ and that feels good.”