In 2016, Megan Charnock walked out of her corporate events job with no idea what she was going to do next. Fast-forward four years and this ‘accidental entrepreneur’ is now the founder of a successful artisan bakery, has an Instagram following of 12,000 fans, and has become a stalwart of the local community. How did she do it?
“I’d been in one company for 13 years and decided to make a change,” Megan explains. “I joined a company that did corporate events, but unfortunately it was a risk that didn’t pay off.” She realised that the corporate world was not for her. Her job was making her unwell and having a negative impact on her health. “One day I just couldn’t do it anymore, and walked out,” she says.
Megan then spent about a year working in Bicicletta, a cycle shop in Saffron Walden, trying to figure out what she wanted to do. All she knew at this point was that she never wanted to be answerable to a boss again – unless that boss was her. Then, in what she calls her ‘light bulb moment’ she hit upon the answer. “I realised there was no decent, handmade bread available in Saffron Walden. I did some market research and talked to people about it, and decided to take the plunge.”
“I started practising breadmaking, particularly sourdough,” she continues. “I made hundreds of loaves, more than I knew what to do with – I ended up giving most of them away!” A sourdough course at the Sourdough School in Northamptonshire followed, and Megan’s idea began to take shape. She began selling her bread, with customers ordering and picking up their loaves from her home.
At this point, the business wasn’t generating an income for Megan, but they still had her husband Jeff’s salary to rely on. Then, in mid-2017, she received a call from Jeff, who told her he had been made redundant. “It was a horrible moment,” Megan recalls, “but we picked ourselves back up. We’d already lost one income, stripped back some of the luxuries. So, we stripped back even further and just carried on.” Using Jeff’s small pot of redundancy money, Megan bought a commercial oven to help her fulfil her fast-growing list of orders. She laughs, “I remember that we kept it in the cupboard under the stairs, wheeling it back and forth to the kitchen! In the end, it never got wheeled back – it just became a permanent resident of our kitchen.”
In 2018, the turning point came. Mini Miss could not grow any further without additional resource. Megan was getting up at 2am every day to bake, the kitchen was constantly covered in flour and she was stretched to her limit. At the same time, Jeff’s job search was only turning up work involving a four-hour round commute – something that would have a negative impact on both the Mini Miss business and his family life. So, he made the decision to join the Mini Miss team and they found a business premises in December of that year.
While Megan continued to bake from home, Jeff spent six months transforming the dilapidated premises into the Mini Miss Bakery Saffron Walden knows today. In May 2019, they opened in Church Street and have never looked back!
“It’s definitely still a bit of a ‘pinch me’ situation,” Megan says. “I remember talking to someone about maybe having a shop in five years’ time, and now it’s happened – and far quicker than I could ever have imagined!”
Since opening, Mini Miss has gone from strength to strength, growing organically through word of mouth and social media buzz. Starting from just bread, the bakery now offers its famous cinnamon rolls, sourdough cookies and babka to those lucky enough to snatch them up before they sell out, as well as a select range of other local produce. Working closely with local suppliers including Fen Farm Dairy, Audley End Kitchen Garden, Neal’s Yard Dairy and Cobble Lane Cured, Mini Miss now offers butter, cheese and cured meats to accompany its sourdough.
“The local aspect of the business is so important to me,” Megan says. “I love the community spirit, the feeling of supporting others and being supported in return. Especially now, with the COVID-19 pandemic having such an impact on small businesses, it’s even more essential to help each other.”
In the spring of 2020, a unique opportunity arose to collaborate with Duchess Farms, just half an hour away from Saffron Walden. They needed to raise money for a de-huller and mill to mill their own grains, which they were currently having to do offsite. If Mini Miss raised £3,000 for Duchess Farms, they’d win the opportunity to have their very own field of heritage grain grown and milled on their behalf. So, Megan set up a crowdfunding campaign.
“I was staggered by the response. Within 48 hours we’d raised enough for a grain field of our own. Within a week, this total had doubled, securing us two fields!” It means that next year, when the fields are harvested, Mini Miss customers will be able to buy bread made from flour milled just down the road – yet another string in the business’s local bow.
The business is growing and thriving, but Megan is determined to stay local. She says: “Whatever happens, I don’t want to lose the independent, local and community-minded spirit that is so important to who we are at Mini Miss. We love working with other local businesses and handcrafting every single loaf we bake. We love the Saturday mornings where we open the doors and there’s a queue outside come rain or shine. We love seeing our customers chat amiably to the sound of the music we’re playing, and a sort of party atmosphere takes hold. We do it for the community we have grown, the customers we have come to know so well – we’re determined never to lose that.”
What about the COVID-19 pandemic? “Like all businesses, we’ve had to diversify to survive,” says Megan. “We have sadly shut our doors due to lockdown, but we’re still serving our customers through other means. During the November lockdown, our customers were able to order bread and provisions to either collect from the bakery, or delivered to their door. We’re surviving this pandemic thanks to our customers’ loyalty and the amazing community we have built.”
The future is certainly looking bright for Mini Miss. In the coming months, we’ll be profiling a range of other local businesses whose hard work, imagination and innovative mindsets are so critical to the communities in which we live and work.
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