Lindsey Ebbs speaks with the family bakers, Botham's of Whitby, in an exclusive Insight Interview for The Whitby Guide
Botham’s bakery products have been essential items in our house for a long time. My first and second Podiatry practices were located off Skinner Street in Whitby.
‘Top Botham’s' as it is known locally, was a stone’s throw away. This is a bit tricky when you are trying to watch your waistline and all you can smell is the tempting wafts of baking when passing the shop!
It has been a long-established Whitby family-run business since 1865, created by Elizabeth Botham and five generations later it is still run by the Botham family.
My children’s favourite treat was and still is; a Saturday lunch at the café above ‘Top Botham’s', it is reminiscent of a bygone era. With white linen table cloths, silver condiment sets, waitresses in black and white uniforms, table service and a plethora of amazing food to choose from.
Light salads and sandwiches to fully cooked homemade dinners and the best homemade chips ever (you know, the ones with the small brown crunchy bits).
I can almost predict what the boys will order, even now 20 years later…. scampi and chips with a jap for afters and I am the same with fish and chips or a lighter option of egg and chips with a trifle for pudding!
Christmas would not be the same without Botham’s as my sister puts her order in for pork pies, bacon, sausages, bread, and gateaux’s, and my car just smells divine for 3 hours of travelling to her house.
I for one, cannot wait to eat there again when restrictions have been lifted but, in the meantime, you can still enjoy Botham’s by post, through their online store, or if you are lucky enough to live in Whitby and visit one of their shops.
Jo Botham is the MD of Botham’s and is Elizabeth Botham’s great-grandson and has very kindly taken the time to answer my questions and as I am writing this, I am suddenly feeling very hungry!
I know Botham's of Whitby is a family-run business dating back to 1865 but how many family members are still involved in the business and how many employees do you have?
Right now, we have eight family members working in the business. My brother Nick is now company chair; my two sisters Liz and Sarah; Sarah’s husband Mike and their three daughters Anita, Lois and Kay; lastly myself, recently taking on Mike’s previous role as MD.
We have around one hundred and twenty employees working through the two bakeries, five shops and three tearooms – when they re-open!
How many items do you, on average, produce from the Botham's Whitby bakery in a day?
This would be hard for us to quantify as production changes seasonally and is across two bakery sites now. But at our Skinner Street bakery we make one hundred and fifty plus lines daily and on top of this are our celebration cakes, party food, seasonal lines and hampers.
Generally speaking, the top three items in terms of absolute numbers are usually white bread buns, sausage rolls and Shah ginger biscuits.
How long does it take to make a loaf of Botham's bread from scratch?
Most bread takes around two and a half hours from weighing up to coming out of the oven. The slowest, however, our Sourdough loaf, takes about twenty hours. Of course, for most of that time it is fermenting, I don’t actually have to kneed it for twenty hours!”
What’s the furthest distance that Botham's of Whitby have shipped to from your online store?
Our mail-order parcels certainly have been picking up some miles. I guess, wherever you are in the world, if that Botham’s craving strikes, it strikes!
The furthest would have to be orders sent to Australia and the USA. We have sent parcels to New Zealand so I suppose technically that would be the furthest.
But if you looked at a map of the UK and plotted where parcels containing our most popular lines, such as Lemon Buns, Shah Ginger Biscuits & Plumbread, have been delivered then let’s just say it would certainly be covered!
How long does it take to produce a new product? From initial thought, testing, producing and then going on sale? What processes do you have to comply with before a product is deemed ok to go on sale?
Being a relatively small company, we can usually get a new line into our own shops in a very short time. Providing it is only intended to have a short shelf life. Items such as our new Toffee Nut Blondie or the Country Grain Loaf.
We have a system that calculates nutrition. And of course, highlights allergens, and another to check the pricing based on the ingredient costs, packaging, oven time and labour.
So, once we have tried a trial batch out on the directors and any staff who are hungry, we just need to print out some point-of-sale information and add the item to our tills.
If we are talking about a new line to produce at our bakery at Enterprise Way, such as the new Winter Brack we launched in November last year, then it’s a different ball game. Because it is a bigger commitment and investment, more time must go into product development and approval.
It then has to go through shelf-life testing and have all the packaging checked by trading standards so you are looking at six months minimum.
What inspired the ‘Great Jap Cake'? (which is my eldest sons’ favourite, by the way!)
We have done quite a few “giant specials” by request. Giant strawberry tart, giant rum truffle, giant iced fancy, giant pink fairy bun, giant simnel square, and the list goes on!
The Chocolate Jap is of course a very popular Botham’s Heritage line. Its giant form was so frequently requested that it has become a regular item in its own right.
And the fact that it is suitable to be posted nationwide has made it a very popular choice for customers further afield. Especially as a giant centerpiece for their celebration table!
Of all the amazing products sold by Botham's of Whitby, what is your favourite and why?
It’s probably going to have to be our Pork Pies. I mean, I would find it hard without Botham’s bread and Apollo, or strawberry tarts in summer.
Without our pork pies, I don’t think that I could really survive!
Bakery items are all mainly perishable. What happens to all of the stock that didn’t sell during the day?
We always aim to have a bit left at the end of the day. It’s a very hard job to get it exactly right all of the time.
Some daily items like pies and scones are bagged up and sold the next day at a discount. And some are given to staff. Most of the left-over bread is turned into breadcrumbs which we then use for making sausage meat.
The Botham's of Whitby family are all super slim. How can that be with all those amazing cakes around you all day? What’s the secret Jo, should we be eating more bread, cakes, porkpies and biscuits?
Well, thank you for the compliment! I’m not sure I should be giving dietary advice but we do all eat well! I have personally always put it down to having so many flights of stairs to run up and down all day long! Either that or just nervous energy burning off the calories?
This is the burning question I really need to know the answer to……. How do you eat your Botham's of Whitby lemon bun?
Cut in half with the sugary lemon top which is then in the middle? Or unashamedly with the lemon icing ending up all over your top lip?
I think you might be giving readers the idea that you weren’t Whitby born there! Surely, TEAR it in half and fold it inside out is the only way? Only joking, you should eat it in whichever way gives you the most pleasure. Even if that is the wrong way!
Given the success of opening the Enterprise Way, what's the next plan for Botham's of Whitby?
We have been working for several years on a plan to move the bakery from behind the Skinner Street shop up to the Enterprise way on the Industrial Estate.
It is not really an expansion as much as a simplification; re-creating what we have now but all on one level.
We want to include a viewing gallery too so people can see the magic happening. It’s all very exciting so watch this space!
Botham's of Whitby is open to local residents and can be ordered online via the website – https://www.botham.co.uk/
Thanks to Lindsey Ebbs of Lindsey Ebbs Podiatry for this fascinating interview.