Hastily buying another business during the dark and uncertain early days of the Covid-19 pandemic doesn’t immediately sound like the recipe for commercial success, but sometimes in life you just have to go with gut instinct.
For Kirkwall-based family bakery firm, Rendall’s, it’s certainly been a gamble that’s paid off.
Two years ago, as the world was struggling to find a path through the global coronavirus crisis, the team at Rendall’s was suddenly presented with the chance to acquire Baikie’s of Finstown, a former bakery that had operated as a popular general store in the village for decades. It had been announced that Baikie’s - a classic Orcadian retail institution where you can buy pretty much whatever you need - was set to close at the end of May 2020, much to the dismay of the Finstown community, and folk from further afield in the islands.
As one of Baikie’s wholesale bakery goods suppliers, it wasn’t great news for Rendall’s either, particularly as the Covid-19 lockdown was starting to impact on demand from suddenly mothballed hospitality businesses and other key customers.
But for Rendall’s it also had all the ingredients of an opportunity, albeit one that called for some courageous decision making at a difficult time.
“It happened very quickly,” says Katie Brass, the third generation of the Rendall family to work in the Kirkwall business. “We got a phone call from Marian Montgomery, the manager at Baikie’s, one day in May to say they were closing at the end of that month and to let us know and they wouldn’t be needing our bread anymore.
“Later, we spoke amongst ourselves as a family and wondered if Baikie’s would be for sale,” she continues. “It all just happened from there. The next night we came out to see the business and within two or three days the sale was happening. It was crazy, but we probably thought it would be security for us as we’d have another outlet. We just didn’t know what would come back, business wise, after the lockdown restrictions eased.”
Rendall’s became the official owners of Baikie’s Stores on 12 June 2020 and haven’t looked back since. Jobs were saved and more created, both in Finstown and Kirkwall, where production has been stepped up to ensure Baikie’s Stores is always fully stocked with Rendall’s bakery goods. Combined, the two businesses now employ 30 people.
The news the Finstown business had been saved also went down well locally.
“The reaction was fantastic,” says Katie. “I think folk were devastated they were going to lose their shop and, to be honest, it would be awful if they didn’t have a shop here in Finstown. Everyone’s delighted and they’ve been so welcoming and supportive.”
That’s only part of this pandemic success story though. A year on from the Baikie’s purchase, the Rendall’s team found themselves presented with another tempting opportunity when they got the chance to buy biscuit making equipment from a small factory in Caithness. Its owners, Orkney born Stuart McConnach and his wife Margaret, were retiring and keen to find a good home for their machinery and recipes, ideally in Orkney.
One of Stewart and Margaret’s customers was Birsay’s Barony Mills, producers of traditional beremeal. The Caithness factory used the Orkney beremeal to make biscuits for the mill’s visitor shop and it was the Barony’s miller, Ali Harcus, who gave Katie the heads up about the equipment coming on the market.
“Ali called and asked if we wanted to buy some biscuit making machinery,” recalls Katie. “I asked my dad and he initially said no, but then he called back an hour later wanting to speak to Ali. We went across to Caithness shortly afterwards to see the equipment and it just felt like it was meant to be as it was the perfect fit for the mothballed bakery space we had within Baikie’s.”
More quick decision making saw the equipment bought, dismantled, shipped across the Pentland Firth and installed in the Baikie’s building, after all the old bakery fittings and ovens in the Finstown premises were stripped out.
By August of last year Baikie’s was making those vital beremeal oatcakes for the Barony Mill shop, but Katie and her family saw the potential in developing a new standalone biscuit brand for Orkney.
“We didn’t do biscuits at all at Rendall’s,” she says. “We did produce oatcakes and shortbread occasionally, but only if we had time and didn’t offer a steady supply. The equipment from Caithness opened up all kinds of possibilities for us.”
Baikie’s Biscuits was officially born in September 2021, with local designer Kerry Cooper creating a distinctive brand and packaging for the new line. Baikie’s now produce oatcakes in a variety of flavours, and different types of shortbread biscuits.
“Initially, we just focused on getting the new biscuits out to local shops and that’s all been really good,” says Katie. “We’ve since expanded into Caithness and Shetland but are just ticking along and seeing how it all goes. We’ve got some new mixed packs of oatcakes and shortbreads that we’ll be launching soon and have also been creating personalised packs of shortbreads for hospitality businesses, something that’s proving very popular.”
Suffice to say, the past two years have been something of a blur for Katie and her family, but through their efforts Finstown still has its shop, folk have kept their jobs and news posts have been created. And now, Orkney’s fantastic portfolio of food and drink businesses has a new addition in the form of Baikie’s Biscuits, a brand born from a pandemic.
“I still look back at it all and think ‘oh my god, I can’t actually believe we did that!’” laughs Katie. “What were we thinking? To be honest, I don’t know if we really were thinking. Baikie’s had always been a really good shop in an excellent location and when the chance came, we just kind of grabbed it and went for it.”