The Waldron’s story

‘The business started in 1985,’ explains Rob, ‘but the family story actually started a little before that. It all began in Jersey where Mum and Dad met. Dad was a head chef at the Normandy Hotel and Mum worked on reception. They fell in love, got married and decided they wanted to move back to England; they put a pin in the map and ended up in Moretonhampstead on Dartmoor.’

Rob’s dad Peter saw an advertisement for a job working with a lady who made desserts for restaurants in the area and he thought his cheffing skills might help him get it. He was right and he worked with her until she decided to sell the business. Peter bought it and that was the beginning of Waldron’s Patisserie.

‘Dad continued to make desserts for local businesses from the lady’s premises,’ continues Rob, ‘but as the business grew he realised he’d need more space and found a unit in Buckfastleigh, where we’re still based. Then Mum joined the business and it really started to develop.

‘At the beginning, all of our products were ambient and made to order. Restaurants would call Mum after evening service with their orders for the next day, which would be baked from scratch in the morning and delivered in the afternoon.‘

It took a small “accident” for the team to see the opportunity to freeze cakes and desserts so that customers could get what they wanted, whenever they wanted it. Rob says: ‘The team made too many cakes one day and didn’t know what to do with them, so Dad suggested they stick them in the freezer, thinking it would ruin them but that he’d deal with it later. When they were defrosted a couple of days later they were perfect, which is when they realised there was an opportunity to freeze the cakes – springboarding the business to the next level.

‘That was in 1988, so when I was born in 1991, the frozen food element of the business was already well established.  Within two days of my arrival, Mum was back in the office with me in a rocker by her desk. And it was exactly the same when Jamie was born in 1993; we were literally brought up in the business.

‘We’ve got one team member from those days who’s still with us and he tells me stories of how, if Mum and Dad had to go off to do something, he would babysit, putting me up on the table while making desserts.’

The brothers spent their summer holidays helping out and have worked full time in the bakery since they left school, learning the ropes from the bottom up: ‘We did everything from greasing tins to doing the washing up before learning how to pipe rosettes and bake off the apple pies. We also had to learn how to manage the store rooms and drive the fork lift truck and, throughout it all, Mum and Dad made sure we didn’t get any special treatment.’

In recent years Rob has taken over as managing director while Jamie is the office manager and, together, they’ve driven the business forward, modernising and keeping up with developments such as veganism and free-from diets. Sadly Sarah (the boys’ mum) passed away a couple of years ago, but Peter stays close to the action – even though he’s no longer running the business.

Despite the change in leadership, what remains unchanged is Waldron’s focus on producing cakes and desserts of the very best quality. This comes through in many ways, particularly in the ingredients used. Everything is made from organic flour milled in the Cotswolds, fresh cream and cream cheese is sourced from the Westcountry and, when it comes to chocolate, only top-notch Belgian will do.

The wider team have brought a great deal of additional experience to Waldron’s: ‘A good example is Paul Beckwith, who heads up our bakery department,’ says Rob. ‘He owned his own bakery before he came to work with us and has brought great attention to detail to our baking. Similarly, our colleague Chris Stephens has used his cheffing skills in the business since he joined in 1988. Chris was actually a chef at one of the restaurants where Dad used to deliver cakes.’

Another long-serving member of the team is production manager Lisa Smith. Rob says: ‘Lisa didn’t have any experience in food when she came to us 20 years ago, but she’s worked her way through the ranks and is now a key member of the team.’

The family vibe and the focus on looking after each other and the customers is hugely important and what keeps the team getting up at the crack of dawn to bake trays of freshly made meringue.

‘We’ll take those sheets of meringue – which we make just like you would at home – and spread the cream on them by hand, roll them by hand and package them up by hand,’ says Rob.

That’s pretty unusual and why Waldron’s has kept its band of loyal customers for so many years. Buckfastleigh locals even rock up at the commercial bakery to pick up puds for their own special occasions and dinner parties.

Because everything is freshly made and then quick-frozen there is minimal waste. Rob says, ‘We freeze the finished cakes and desserts to -18°c very quickly. Then they’re usually delivered to customers within a couple of days, which is very speedy for our industry.

‘Even if we don’t have a product in stock –  which is rare as we have a large cold store which can hold up to 150 pallets – we can make the product and deliver it to the customer within five days (some of our competitors work up to a three-week lead time).’

The team have created an array of new products, reinvigorating the range and also responding to customers’ requests for traditional and authentic bakery products made without gluten and animal products.