A lifelong food intolerance and an artistic inclination led Sarah Richards to open up her own artisan sourdough bakery, which has gained local and national recognition.
The loaves on display at Seagull Bakery are the result of a hard-working team who rise in the wee hours to ensure locals in Tramore, Co. Waterford can get their fix of 'real bread'.
The popular bakery is the lovechild of Richards, herself a mother of three. A fine art painter by trade, her craft is now sourdough: each loaf or pastry that emerges from the oven is essentially a work of art, and people can't seem to get enough.
Here, Richards talks about sourdough's health benefits, the difference that marks 'real bread' apart, and the graft it has taken to make Seagull Bakery the success story it has become.
What piqued your interest in sourdough in particular?
I couldn’t digest standard shop bread, it always left me feeling bloated and sick. I knew about the digestibility of sourdough due to the long fermentation and I always loved sourdough bread, but it was very hard to come by where we lived so I decided to start baking it myself. We have customers who come to us now, who have told us they thought they couldn’t eat bread anymore as it left them feeling unwell after eating it, but they find they can eat our sourdough bread and have no digestive issues. This gives you a great lift as a baker to get this kind of feedback, making people realise there is a difference between real bread and the standard, mass produced factory breads out there.
[Ed note: sourdough contains vitamins B1-B6, B12, folate, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin E, selenium, iron, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and potassium –in addition to uniquely balanced proteins and fatty acids. You can read more health benefits on seagullbakery.ie.]
What is your own earliest memory involving bread?
My mum and aunt passed away recently, and food memories have been slipping back into my mind. My Mum had this little old retro, stainless steel tray with wooden handles on it and she used to toast white batch bread on it. She’d cut it into tiny, manageable pieces and smother it with real butter and honey, she did the same for the grandkids. My aunt made soda bread with raisins in it, it was heaven straight from the oven. I guess being from Waterford I was reared on the blaa! One memory would be of going to mass before school during lent and getting hot blaas from the bakery across from the church, it made it all worthwhile.. there was an incredible aroma in the air.
Bakers are traditionally very early risers! What time do you wake up at every day?
We start between 1 am and 3 am, Wednesday to Saturday. The busier the day the earlier the start. It's hard going to bed early in the evenings. Especially with small kids in the house, it can be a challenge - thank God for ear plugs! I would finish between 12 pm and 3 pm in the afternoon. Monday and Tuesday are prep days for us so we have more sociable hours on these days. We open the bakery shop from Wednesday to Saturday 8 am to 4 pm. The early starts are the hardest part, especially setting the alarm for 12.30 am on a Saturday morning.... but it's all worth it when you see the loaves coming out of the oven!
How has the local response in Tramore been?
We have been blown away by the response from customers, we could see from queues forming at our stall at the local famers market that there was an appetite for real bread, but we were still taken aback by the response when we opened our bakery in the town centre. People are more food educated these days - they want real food, not processed food with chemicals added. We have an open plan bakery so customers can see the bakers working with the dough, shaping it into loaves, and taking bread out of the oven. Customers love to see this, tables full of active bubbling dough, tomorrow's bread being shaped before them.
The name of the bakery is obviously a reference to Tramore being a seaside town, but is there more to it?
Yes it is a reference to being a seaside town, but also it is a reference to my love of seabirds, and also my love of travel and that sense of freedom. I am an artist also and I loved painting seabirds, so some of my friends called me 'sarahseagull'. My friend even made me an email address back in the day called sarahseagul! I did an entrepreneurship in food course and our lecturer said that sometimes a name that is not expected or is not to do with the product can be catchy, this resonated with me so it seemed like a natural choice.
For more information about Tramore's Seagull Bakery, visit their Instagram account here.