Name: John Castley.

Age: 51.

What is your business called?

Wild Hearth Bakery.

Where is it based?

Cultybraggan Prisoner of War Camp, Comrie, Perth and Kinross.

What does it produce?

We supply sourdough bread and pastries. Sourdough is our passion, and we relish the challenge of making products that we believe are far superior to their yeasted cousins. These include sourdough croissants, pain au chocolat and bomboloni (Italian custard-filled doughnuts) and sesame-crusted fruit bread.

To whom does it sell?

When the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic hit we scrambled to turn our business model on its head. Ninety percent of our sales were wholesale to cafes, shops, restaurants, caterers and hotels, the other 10% being direct sales at farmers’ markets. In the space of two weeks we lost nearly all our wholesale customers, farmers’ markets closed, and yet we managed to make up all lost revenue by switching to home delivery.

That required very quick work on the IT front to repurpose our wholesale ordering system as a web shop, something we could do because both our head of operations and I had former IT careers. We also had a crash course in delivery logistics, requiring the adoption of routing software.

What is its turnover?

Approximately £400,000.

How many employees?


When was it formed?


What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Cooking was a big part of my childhood, having been raised by a Hungarian mother who was an exceptional cook. Her father had been a milling engineer and mill owner in Hungary before fleeing with his family at the end of World War Two, and became a successful restaurateur in Sydney. I began my baking career fresh from high school in 1987 when I worked for a year as an untrained but enthusiastic pastry cook at a wood-fired sourdough bakery in Melbourne Australia. But I had my sights set on university and did a degree in Asian Studies majoring in Mandarin Chinese at the Australian National University in Canberra. Within a few years I found myself working in the IT sector, as you do. For the last few years of my nearly twenty-year corporate career, I worked in mental health policy for the Australian government.

Why did you take the plunge?

My passion for cooking and baking niggled at me throughout my corporate career, and I took every opportunity to visit and work with artisan bakers I met over the years. I even built a wood-fired oven in my backyard. As I approached forty, I became increasingly restless and decided that if I didn’t jump to pursue a career in food, I would die regretting it. Finally, in 2010, aged 42, I retrained as a chef at Ballymalloe Cookery School in Ireland and worked for five years at a number of London restaurants, most notably with Theo Randall at the Intercontinental. In 2015, the pull of wilder landscapes and the opportunity to pursue my passion drew me to Scotland with my partner Caroline. Wild Hearth Bakery is the realisation of a lifelong dream.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I used savings and a lot of my own labour. I didn’t apply for grants because I wanted to move fast and they all stipulated that work could not begin before a decision in several months’ time. I didn’t borrow at the time, though I have subsequently to expand.

What was your biggest break?

Being discovered by the late, great Andrew Fairlie, Scotland’s own two-star Michelin chef. He was a great supporter and opened many doors for us, and I’ll always be deeply grateful to him.

Free business coaching from GrowBiz in the first year was also a godsend, particularly because Enterprise Facilitator Bravo Nyamudoka had run his own food manufacturing business and knew exactly what I was going through. I can’t speak highly enough of the support I got from Growbiz during the crucial start-up phase.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I love so many things about it: The look and smell of sourdough bread and pastries, feedback from customers, my great team, the huge variety in my work.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

I have ambitious goals for the business. I’d like us to be a mover and shaker in the grain revolution bringing real bread made from locally grown grain into the mainstream. I’d like to engage much more with the community as part of that, and we’re in the process of setting up a network of community bread cooperatives.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

The transformation of our business model was not without costs to the business and staff. At one point, we were so overwhelmed by the demands of home delivery that we had to stop operations for a week to regroup and redesign the way we worked. As it was only a one-week closure, I was not able to furlough staff, so I was very pleased to receive some assistance from the Scottish Government. I received a £10,000 grant under the Scottish Government’s Corona Virus Small Business Grant Fund and I have applied for a low interest, government-guaranteed Bounce Back Loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Find excellent people and give them responsibility.