Baker closes famous Norwich stall

Ben WoodsA master baker who opened up shop on Norwich Market to spread the gospel of traditionally baked bread has closed his stall after deciding to shut his bakery.Ben Woods

A master baker who opened up shop on Norwich Market to spread the gospel of traditionally baked bread has closed his stall after deciding to shut his bakery.

Norman Olley saw his market stall on row b46 as the perfect place to show the city real bread and championed his fellow stall holders as the only individuals to go to in Norwich for advice on everything from cheese to coffee.

But on Monday the 66 year old baker, one of Rick Stein's Food Heroes, decided to call it day in his fight against the tide of cheap bread from supermarkets.

He closed his shop on Dereham's Norwich Street and his market stall on Monday and baked the last loaf at his 102 year old bakery in North Elmham, near Dereham today.

Nine staff will lose their jobs and 30 wholesale clients, including schools, will need to find another supplier.

But the biggest loss will be the taste of fresh, locally-made traditional bread, with none of the preservatives or additives in mass produced cheap supermarket bread, said a tearful Mr Olley.

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"People prefer to buy supermarket bread because it is cheaper," he said. "What they don't realise is just how poor the quality is in comparison.

"Soon there will be no quality bakers left to compare with the supermarkets. We will be forgotten and people will just have to be satisfied with poor quality bread."

The bakery used to produce more than 200 shapes of white, wholemeal and granary bread, turning about two tonnes of flour into bread every week in ovens based on a 1700s design from 3am each morning.

But he said the turnover dropped from �30,000 per month last year to �23,000 per month in January - despite customers flocking in when snow and ice gripped the county - while overheads, bills and bank charges continued to increase.

"I have seen other bakers close over the years and I had always thought that if you work hard and put in what you want to get out then you can stay open, but now it has happened to me," he said.

"It will only be a matter of time before another small business goes in the region because there is no way of competing with the big supermarkets like Tesco.

"There needs to be more David's in this world otherwise the Goliaths will rule."

Mr Olley began baking at Britons Dereham Bake House while he was still at school aged 15.

He bought North Elmham Bakery in 1976 for �7,000, when a loaf cost just 12p.

At its peak the business ran three bakery shops and employed about 38 staff.

He invited schools and WI groups to visit his bakery and regularly appeared at the EDP backed Spring Fling on the Norfolk Showground to promote traditional bread.

In 1998 he led trading standards to investigate Somerfields after alerting officers with allegation that their "fresh" sandwiches were up to three days old.

He also conducted a blind tasting test in Dereham where he asked the public to choose the best bread between his and Tesco.