Text Kate Bond
Photos Jørn Tomter
This story was first published in I Love Chatsworth Road Magazine issue 4 in April 2016
Alexandre Bettler had never baked a loaf of bread before. So when he quit his job to embark on a new career as an artisan baker, the Swiss graphic designer and Clapton devotee was ready for a challenge.
“I was interested in mass producing an object that would still have its own quality or story or life, which is baking bread or ceramics,” he begins by telling me. “Because you can mass produce such an object but they all are unique in a way. I always loved bread but I never thought I’d be a baker.”
Now, three years on, Alexandre is the man behind Today Bread, Clapton’s newest micro-bakery, delivering fresh bread to front doors once a week. Organic loaves are transported by bike to local shops, restaurants and subscribers. From £16 a month, members can choose from four different packages – Experimental, Reasonable Rye, Table Bread and Adventurous.
As he sips a coffee during our meeting outside Clapton Pond, Alexandre recalls his dream of using his years of design experience to create a product with a story. He decided in the end on bread – but first he’d have to learn the ropes.
The Today Bread story began with a job at Hackney’s E5 bakery. “Instead of going to school, I decided to learn by working,” he says. “I worked at E5 for a year and half to see how it works. Then I bought the oven.”
Armed with the skills, a stone oven, several fridges and a bike, his bakery was born. The only thing missing was a location – which is where the two-bedroom flat that Alexandre shares with his girlfriend came in. “We sleep above the room [where he bakes] so when I start at three in the morning I have to try not to make too much noise,” he laughs. “There’s flour and dust everywhere. She’s great. I’m very lucky.”
Every Tuesday, Alexandre bakes the week’s bread for his East End subscribers and spends the rest of his week rolling out orders for local shops like Palm 2, on Upper Clapton Road. And the orders come thick and fast. On the day we meet, his brown delivery bike parked up outside, he has just dropped off a large batch of fresh loaves, each enclosed in a beautifully designed wrapper that features a small story about its unique creation and ingredients.
“It’s amazing, I’m discovering things every day,” he says, smiling, when I ask how he enjoys it. “That’s why, for me, London is a good place because there’s a lot of open-mindedness. In Switzerland or France, it would be super hard to do this because people are so convinced that they have really good bread, but actually they don’t. They don’t know that the flour they use comes from Kazakhstan or wherever. Here, you can be a bit more radical.”
But Alexandre is not stopping here. He has big plans for the future, he tells me with a smile, as his brown wavy hair ripples in the wind. They include a local store and exciting potential new collaborations. “I’m scared because I’ve never had a shop. But I think I have to if I want to grow because now I am reaching my limit in terms of production. The whole thing is growing very slowly and carefully because its very fragile. But it’s very exciting.” And, perhaps at last, his girlfriend can sleep in peace. “I think she wants to have the room back!” he jokes.