Bar and Leisure Focus: The Bristol Loaf


Bristol-based Phoenix Wharf has completed a new scheme for bakery business the Bristol Loaf, launching a community foodie hub in the south of the city, bristol, the britsol vine, two bely, hugo’s greengrocer, Engine house developments bristol

Words by Toby Maxwell

Bristol-based interior design agency Phoenix Wharf has completed a new scheme for bakery business the Bristol Loaf, which, together with other local artisanal partners, has launched a community foodie hub in Bedminster, a district to the south of the city.

The Bristol Loaf was initially set up in 2017 by entrepreneur Gary Derham, whose background includes working for local hospitality operator The Assemblies. Its first outlet was a single-unit bakery and cafe in the city’s Redfield area, before expanding into a second unit and becoming a successful supplier of high-end artisanal bakery products to many other local businesses.

Ongoing success allowed the company to expand into additional premises and to take the opportunity to relocate its baking operations at the same time, with the original Redfield site remaining open as a cafe only.

The new venue will also host an expanded food and drink offer, sourced not only from the Bristol Loaf, but from a number of other specialist operators, effectively creating a mini foodie hub for Bristol. Located on Bedminster Parade, the cafe-bakery-store sits within a boutique mixed-use development called Engine House Developments, and takes up the entirety of the site’s ground floor – with 240m2 of front-of-house space and 90m2 back-of-house.

Produce from the Bristol Loaf’s wine-selling sister brand, the Bristol Vine, now part of the same hub. Image Credit: FRANKLIN + FRANKLIN
Produce from the Bristol Loaf’s wine-selling sister brand, the Bristol Vine, now part of the same hub. Image Credit: FRANKLIN + FRANKLIN

‘The vision for the new undertaking is an ethical supermarket that is accessible to all,’ said Phoenix Wharf creative director Emma Carter, ‘where customers feel very welcome to spend time and relax.’

The Bristol Loaf will be retailing its own takeaway bakery produce in the space, as well as offering cafe customers a menu that includes coffee and pastries, and a deli that encompasses soups and sandwiches, quiches and salads, plus drinks such as smoothies and kombucha. All the produce will be locally sourced, and all dishes made from scratch on site. Local operator Hugo’s Greengrocer is taking a 25m2 space within the facility, and there will be two other specialist producers present: the Bristol Loaf’s new sister brand wine specialist, the Bristol Vine, and local cheesemonger, Two Belly.

The brief for the new site was to create a hub that widened the Bristol Loaf’s offer. The business’s commitment to sustainability meant initiatives such as using the heat generated by kitchen ovens to warm the whole space, with the aroma of freshly-baked bread designed to fill the air. A fully digitalised order system will prevent any paper wastage, while the timber from bakers’ tables in the Bristol Loaf’s first premises has been sanded to minimise signs of wear and tear before reconstruction as tables for the new venue.

The Two Belly cheesemonger, also newly installed in Engine House Developments, offers a selection of cheese and advice on which beers go best with which cheese. Image Credit: FRANKLIN + FRANKLIN
The Two Belly cheesemonger, also newly installed in Engine House Developments, offers a selection of cheese and advice on which beers go best with which cheese. Image Credit: FRANKLIN + FRANKLIN

‘For the interior look and feel,’ Carter continued, ‘the client asked for planting to be a really standout, nature-inspired element, building on the presence of plants in the original Redfield site. The materials palette is both rustic and tactile, and includes white tiling and the extensive use of solid ash timber for shelving, corridors and even ceiling panels, alongside brick and raw, exposed concrete – ensuring the overall aesthetic is the antithesis of a slick, super-polished look.’

The cafe area includes 58 covers in total: 44 at the tables and 14 at perch/bar seating along the scheme’s full-height storefront glazing, with a wooden ledge counter and upcycled stools. The tables are in a variety of two and four-seater arrangements, coming together easily to cater for larger groups. Bifolding windows along the glazed wall enable the site to have evening opening presence on to the street front, while signage and branding is mostly hand-scripted and low key, allowing the company’s products to do the talking.

As visitors enter, they are greeted by a floor-to-ceiling bread display, so that the bakery offer is clearly communicated. The entrance area is glazed and open, with plenty of room for pram-parking. The planting is visually dominant from the get-go. ‘We blacked out the 4.1m-high ceiling,’ said Carter, ‘and created troughs almost a metre down, clad in ash timber slats and travelling the whole ceiling perimeter, housing a number of large, trailing plants. The troughs also conceal the electrical cabling, while criss-cross wiring creates structural support for the irrigation system.’

The centrepiece is the bread display, the aromas of which have been designed to spread deliciously through the space. Image Credit: FRANKLIN + FRANKLIN
The centrepiece is the bread display, the aromas of which have been designed to spread deliciously through the space. Image Credit: FRANKLIN + FRANKLIN

Immediately to the left is Hugo’s Greengrocer, followed by the main cafe counter service area, with the cafe itself taking up the rest of the open space. The Bristol Vine includes a wine-tasting station that features all colours of wine, along with expert reviews and guidance, and Two Belly offers a curated selection of cheeses and suggested beers to accompany them – both of which are located against the rear wall.

The bakery area includes: a takeaway sales area; a central free-standing bread display behind the counter; a pastries area for customers to help themselves en route to the till; a chiller for the display of the deli cafe food offer; a hot food area under heat lamps; and a 3.5m-long coffee station with ample space around it for collecting drinks and the till area. Care has been taken to avoid pinch points for kitchen staff, waiting staff and customers collecting coffee, while at the same time separately zoning out the kitchen, counter and bakers’ spaces.

Lighting over the cafe seating area features clustered paper lanterns to create a soft and homely feel, while feature lighting over the counters is in the form of reconditioned factory pendants, offering a soft, lower-level glow above the service and coffee counter areas. Flooring is an existing concrete-look tiling, which, where damaged, has been additionally concrete-screeded to ensure a safe overall level. All the counters are clad in white tiling apart from the rear counter, which is made up of wooden slats.

The back-of-house area includes large-scale fridges, loaders, ovens, mixing areas and shaping tables, and is out of sight of customers, although some areas of prep remain visible to front-of-house, providing an element of theatre – such as for bread-shaping – and room for lunch prep.

Interview: Chris Gwyther Phoenix Wharf

Chris Gwyther, founder and creative director at Phoenix Wharf, explains why adaptability and collaboration are key components of his studio’s work.

Chris Gwyther, Phoenix Wharf. Image Credit: MARTIN PARRChris Gwyther, Phoenix Wharf. Image Credit: MARTIN PARR

What is Phoenix Wharf, and what is your role within it?

Phoenix Wharf is a Bristol-based design agency specialising in interiors and branding for hospitality and retail. Our studio is an amalgamation of hospitality, retail, brand and exhibition design specialists – a breadth of expertise that gives us a competitive edge, enabling us to adapt design efficiencies from each industry. I am founder and creative director, and I oversee both the studio and all creative output.

We have a wide range of clients, from start-ups to established heritage brands. While we work with national brands and institutions such as SpaceNK or the National Trust, we also love to work with south-west businesses, or to take a local business to a national stage, as with our award-winning London cafe and workspace for Somerset dairy brand Yeo Valley.

How does the collaborative process with the client work on a project like the Bristol Loaf? How does the scope of your involvement vary from one project to another?

We see our job as interpreting and translating our client’s vision. Sometimes that vision needs questioning and refinement, and sometimes clients come to us with total clarity from the outset, as was the case with the Bristol Loaf.

We always start by meeting clients on-site and getting a real understanding of a space, the client and end-user needs. We then go through a series of spatial and sketch explorations to stress-test the brief and throw new ideas into the mix. Once we have an overarching concept, we undertake an iterative design process, engaging with clients little and often to make sure the final project is visually beautiful and commercially and operationally viable.

Our approach can be as varied as our clients. From a 3D perspective, this could be spatial exploration, 3D modelling and visualisation or detail design drawings. While on the brand side, this could include discovery workshops, brand identity creation or brand evolution and guidelines.

Bristol has a reputation as a highly creative and vibrant city. How much of a bearing does it have on the work you do?

Yes, having Bristol as a location definitely influences our work and approach. The city has a really vibrant creative scene with lots of like-minded individuals and a less frantic pace of life than other major cities. It’s both energetic and chilled out, which is a great combination, and it’s also a very sociable, outgoing city. Its diversity and reputation attracts a high calibre of creative, and we definitely benefit from that. The architecture and culture are also really interesting. There are many different lives and inspiring scenes here, from music to food to street art. It’s a dynamic and ever-changing canvas.

Rewinding the clock to before the pandemic, how was the bar and restaurant sector shaping up? What were the key directions and priorities for some of the projects you were working on?

Pre-pandemic, the hospitality sector was largely in two camps, with either larger chains expanding and creating high street monotony or independent eateries busy creating Instagrammable experiences.

We were often asked to create something a bit different and find the sweet spot between community and localisation on the one hand, and multifunctional spaces that could adapt and maximise their real estate value on the other. Client priorities were mainly to do with format exploration – making sure they didn’t have either too much space or too few customers.

Since then, how has the pandemic affected spaces like this in the short/medium term while restrictions are in place? And in the longer term, how do you feel your work has changed both technically and creatively – for example, in terms of planning and ‘new’ design best practice?

It’s hard to answer that with any certitude beyond the immediate era of social distancing, as the industry is still very much finding its feet again. Outside spaces have certainly become a key part of any offer, and kitchens have got used to innovating when it comes to takeaway and delivery – even at the highest end. How customers will feel and behave once things start to open up further is still unknown, but there will certainly be an appetite in more ways than one for hospitality and its ‘good times’ promises after so much social isolation.

We consider one of our key strengths to be flexible spatial planning, and the need for this will become an ever-greater priority in our clients’ minds. We are more conscious than ever, too, of materials and substrates and their values beyond aesthetics versus cost. Sustainability, ethical waste procedures and built-in antibacterial and antiviral attributes are really broadening the materials picture, which is great. The new parameters and challenges bring creative design back to the fore and that’s always good news.

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