By Fiona Rintoul

Stefan Spicknell first had the idea for Cottonrake Bakery, a purveyor of quality pastries and bread on Great Western Road with a small café attached, while taking a Sunday stroll through the West End of Glasgow with his baby son.

“You couldn’t a buy a croissant, and I wanted to buy a croissant,” he says. “That’s why I opened a bakery.”

The former chef, who had worked in the restaurant trade for 15 years at outlets such as Malmaison and Abode in Glasgow and Michelin-starred Knockinaam Lodge in Stranraer, was already running an outside catering service at the time. He’d set that up by chance in 2010 when he walked out of his last job in someone else’s kitchen suffering from burnout.

“I had an opportunity that I took,” he says. “If I hadn’t taken it, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

The opportunity was to cater for a lunch at Glasgow University. Mr Spicknell scraped together the £130 needed to produce the lunch, reinvesting the meagre profits in the bookings for the following week that sprang from that initial venture. As the business grew, he took an affordable shop front on Hyndland Street in Partick and ran it from there. After his croissant epiphany, he opened a bakery in the Partick shop three to four days a week.

From that beginning, he has built a business that now employs 18 staff on two sites and is set for major expansion next year. His mantra is “reinvest, reinvest, reinvest”. Despite having no money of his own to invest at the outset, he has eschewed loans, credit cards and outside investment, preferring to grow organically and reinvest in staff and equipment.

“I believe our biggest outlays should be staff, produce and rents, not paying back loans,” he says. “You get the best out of staff if you invest in them. A good quality team will stand you in good stead.”

He only broke his own rule once after he had to close the business due to illness. A year into Cottonrake Bakery in Patrick, he was diagnosed with two holes in his heart, which meant he had to shutter the business and put all the equipment into storage. When he was able to reopen, he took a small bank loan of £13,000.

“We looked for the smallest loan that could be paid back over the longest period with the option of clearing it early,” he says. “We paid it back within a year and a half.”

Since then, Mr Spicknell has reinvested £80,000 in a new closed bakery at SWG3, which opened in January 2019 and ensures early morning deliveries of bread to the retail outlet, and £40,000 in refurbishing the Great Western Road premises that Cottonrake Bakery moved to five years ago. His business could arguably have grown more quickly if he’d raised investment, but he prefers “one good unit to three average ones”.

“Even if I had £100,000, I wouldn’t open a unit with all bells and whistles,” he says. “I’d have it sparse. You have to grow into the space.”

Soon, he hopes to have a new space to grow into. A daytime café that can seat 50 is planned at a new site on Great Western Road. A spacious downstairs area will house offices to handle fuctions such as accounting and HR, which currently happen in Mr Spicknell’s hallway. Subject to planning approval being granted, the café will open in summer 2020, meaning an increase in staff levels to 32, and is Mr Spicknell’s focus for the immediate future.

“It’s going to take us to a whole new level,” he says.