A pandemic might not be the best time to start a business, but that hasn't deterred Andrew Ishmael and Beth Hannan, the duo behind The Imperfect Bakery in Galway.
On March 13th of this year, former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that the COVID-19 crisis was more serious than we had all wanted to believe, urging employers to close up shop and let staff work from home. This was shortly followed by the order to close pubs and restaurants on March 15th, an unprecedented and, frankly, scary governmental decree that resulted in the temporary redundancy of thousands of hospitality workers.
Galway-based couple Andrew Ishmael, who goes by Drew, and Beth Hannan both worked in hospitality before the pandemic but suddenly found themselves at home when their workplaces shut down. Drew, who represented Ireland in the European Young Chef Awards in 2018, had committed to improving his breadmaking skills this year and decided to use lockdown to perfect his technique.
"I had never worked in a bakery but I had an interest in bread so I made a new year's resolution to bake a loaf each week. In January my bread didn't even rise!" Drew said of his experience with breadmaking. "At the beginning of the pandemic, the government told us to work from home, but obviously as hospitality workers, we couldn't do that, so I decided to work on making bread."
Like the rest of the world, Drew decided to focus on sourdough bread throughout lockdown, posting his attempts on Instagram under the username @the_imperfectbakery. Suddenly, without any marketing, more than 2,000 people had liked The Imperfect Bakery's page and requests to purchase the duo's bread came flooding in.
"Initially, my bread was so bad, it was all flat and burned, but it got so much better with practice. Then people started to ask if they could buy it, which I really didn't expect," Drew told us. "This hobby is turning into a career and I can see myself getting better, which is really exciting and motivating for me. Our bread is made with just flour, water, salt and time and we love it. We're at capacity now, making everything with sourdough including two types of bread and our popular wonky doughnuts."
Because The Imperfect Bakery started in lockdown, Drew and Beth are operating out of their home kitchen, making about 14 loaves of sourdough a day with a 16-year-old oven and a small, home fridge. As well as bread, their menu has expanded to include 'wonky' doughnuts, which are stuffed ring doughnuts with an off-centre hole in the middle that results in a doughnut that is puffy on one side and crispy on the other. This style of sourdough doughnut is unique to The Imperfect Bakery and customers have been delighted with the light, aerated results. Beignets, longboys - a take on an American maple bar - and scones have also started to appear on the menu, made with local, seasonal ingredients.
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Now that lockdown restrictions are starting to ease, what's next for The Imperfect Bakery? Well, business is going so well that Drew and Beth have decided to pack in their day jobs and find a permanent home for the business - one that doesn't involve 16 hours of proving bread in their kitchen at home. "We need to get opened up soon and strike while the iron is hot. We live in Salthill, so we're hoping to open our bakery there or in Galway's Westend and then we'll expand the menu," Drew told us.
Their success, Drew said, is somewhat bittersweet as so many businesses have been impacted by COVID-19. The Imperfect Bakery however is definitely one good news story to come out of such difficult times. "The fact that we started during the pandemic and grew through social media is really important to us, as is having a transparent business. The only issue we've had so far has been fridge space - but now we actually get to open our own bakery. We care about our food and want to welcome customers into our second home."
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The Imperfect Bakery will - hopefully - find its permanent home in Galway over the next few months, but for now, you can keep up with Drew and Beth's bread journey here. To place an order, send The Imperfect Bakery a direct message and pay through Revolut, but demand is high right now, so you'll have to be lucky to secure a loaf!