Food & Drink

Delicious – Docker Bakehouse and Brewery

In a container on the Harbour Arm there’s a hive of activity. Wes Burden and Pete Nelson, the founders of Docker Bakehouse and Brewery, along with their staff, are making 1000 loaves of fresh sourdough bread a week!  They only started up as a business three and half years ago, but seemed to have nailed the market where excellent bread and beer is concerned.  Folkelife joined Wes for his lunch on a bench outside their container in the East Yard at the Harbour Arm.

“I’ve been an avid home-baker for many, many years, making sourdough.  I’d done some courses and people liked the bread I was making.  At the same time, Pete and I were doing some home-brewing, having a bit of fun, and we thought we’d try and see if we could make a business of it.  Even if it was just a side project to our normal work, we’d have a go and see what would come of it.

“We were both in computing, design for the web and print and so on; not working together, but in the same industry and friends.  Docker was an opportunity to get into the real world of working with physical products, maybe a simpler life, but yes, that was it really.  We didn’t have a grand plan, we’d baked our first loaf, and made our first bottle of beer and thought we’d give it a go with minimum outlay to see if it was something we wanted to pursue.”

Pitfalls of working in a shipping container

Diane Dever at the Harbour Arm gave over a container to the pair, and with their second-hand brewing and baking kit, they started to produce a few loaves to sell to the public, and the bread-side took off straight away.

“We had no windows in the container; we had to prop the door open in the wind to stop it slamming!  It was very basic with no insulation, which is a big factor when making bread.  You struggle against the fluctuating temperature when baking bread, it makes it tricky to get a consistent product. We had coping mechanisms – well, literally a fan heater to keep things warm in the winter, and the door open and fans to cool us down in the summer!  Heat is as much of a problem as cold really – we aim for the dough temperature to be 24 degrees, and if it’s 23 it’s noticeably slower, and if it’s 25 or 26 you’re like ‘woah!  Panic!  This is going really fast!’  So you need to put it in the chiller to cool it down.  Insulation is key!”

Dockers Best Sourdough Bread Folkestone
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Docker The Goods Shed

feeding the five thousand

“I remember our first day baking around 20 to 30 loaves, a small amount because we didn’t want to waste it if it didn’t sell.  But then it sold really quickly!  That was quite embarrassing!  From there it grew organically, and became pretty clear that we needed to separate the brewery from the bakery in terms of manufacture.”

The team has now moved to its second home; two containers joined together.  This set up has windows, and insulation, and Wes agrees it’s a much better place for running a business. “Space is always an issue if you’re working in a container. Here we have a long corridor and we work in a shift system with 3 people having a specific job so you don’t get on top of each other.”

wonderful sunrises over Folkestone harbour

“The sourdough process takes 2 and a half days.  We start at 4.30am where someone comes to bake the bread from the previous day.  You see a lot of wonderful sunrises from this location!  The doughs are made up the day before and we put them in the chiller.  They prove slowly and the tasty goodness grows overnight. We get that baking, and also roll some baguettes to bake that day too.

“Someone comes in at 6 am and starts the doughs which are going to be processed that day, for baking on the following day.  There’s normally someone in at 8am too, so we have these overlapping shifts.  There’s someone here until 4pm, finishing and tidying up, and getting the starters ready for the next day.  It’s a constant rolling process and we have one little break which is on a Sunday.  We bake, but we don’t make dough.  We don’t deliver any bread on a Monday, we just produce dough for Tuesday.  We start the process again and off we go into the next week.”

a continuous process

“We’ve expanded to running a stall at The Goods Shed in Canterbury too which is open from Tuesday to Sunday and along with our deliveries we have 10 people working here.  That growth, from the two of us starting this 3 and a half years ago, to the 10 people we have now, really happened in the last year and a half, since we’ve been in the new container.  Before then, because of the space issue in the first container, we really didn’t feel like we could push what we were doing.  We were baking about 200 loaves a week.  Now, with all of us here, and with our wholesale offering being what it is, we’re baking over a thousand loaves a week!”

sourdough for breakfast, lunch and supper

The only place you can buy Docker’s bread in Folkestone, apart from here at Dockers in the East Yard, is at the Folkestone Wholefoods shop on the Old High Street.  Wes and Pete want their products to be sold in the right place, an independent food shop or a deli, somewhere where it’s going to fit, for example, at Filberts Foods in Deal, Kent where the beer and bread work really well alongside the other local produce.

“Restaurants and pubs are – and I regret using this phrase – our real bread and butter! Rocksalt, The Chambers and The Waiting Room in Folkestone sell our bread and beer.  We need that though; if it’s bad weather down here on the Arm, it’s difficult to sell.  On the other hand, when it’s nice weather, we have a reputation of selling out early in the day!”

Folkestone’s fabulous sourdough

The nature of sourdough baking is that there is time for the starter to ferment. That’s the key difference, it makes the bread more digestible. “You don’t get such a bloated feeling from eating it.” Wes evangelises “It’s more nutritious as the nutrition in the flour becomes more accessible once it’s been semi-digested by the fermentation process.  It develops a lot of flavour; it lasts longer; it doesn’t have all the additives in it.  Our classic white sourdough is just flour, water and salt – that’s it!  So you’ve got this incredibly simple, but nutritious, and very tasty thing from just simple ingredients, a bit of time, and care.  A commercially made loaf, I think, takes an hour and a half from mixing it to it being put in a bag – there’s no fermentation happening, it’s risen very quickly with fast acting yeast and in a very warm environment.  With us, it takes around 36 hours. In my opinion, that’s the sort of time it takes to make bread properly.”

“The yeast in our starters is naturally occurring yeast, and bacteria that all play into the nice mix of activity.  You can get different strains of yeast and bacteria and that’s all in the flour – so the flour is key.”  Needing three quarters of a tonne of flour a week, Docker takes their delivery from Shipton Mill which is based in Gloucestershire.  “It’s all organic which makes good and tasty bread!”

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love your food right from the start

“We’re constantly learning though, and trying ways to improve what we do.  We manage our starter so that we have something that acts predictably and if it’s too active, it can get too acidic; if it’s not active enough, it doesn’t do its job properly, so you need to find the right balance. Once you’ve established a culture in your starter the flour becomes the food for it.  It’s amazing how mixing some flour and water together can result in this delicate culture of yeast and bacteria.  As they multiply they get stronger and become a dominant force in consuming everything in your starter.  It needs a bit of attention, well, it goes in the fridge overnight – we don’t take it home and cuddle it – but it certainly is an art in keeping it well!”

Docker’s  workload isn’t any different to that of a yeast-based bakery.  They have a schedule and it works; “We have a nice cycle which once you get into it on a daily basis, it just takes over nicely!”

Wes, between bites of his lunch, has talked for half an hour about bread.  “To be honest, the brewing side hasn’t had as much attention as the baking to start with.  We realised that the two couldn’t work together in the same container.  The brewing takes a bit longer, and it’s about getting the right equipment in place to make the beer you want.  We’ve had to do some of the process off-site because we just can’t fit the equipment into a container.  You need these big tanks, and the containers are the wrong size!  Maybe one day we’ll be able to get everything back on this space again, we’ll see.  We sell the beer in local pubs and a few restaurants and we’ve been producing it in cans and bottles so that we can get it to a lot more places – if it’s just in kegs then you have to have a bar set up for that.  We sell it ourselves here, and also in Canterbury too.”

community focus

The East Yard is a community-focused collection of businesses.  Wes doesn’t like waste – no business does – and he admits that Docker has a reputation for selling out of bread.  If they do have any left-over then it goes to the Rainbow Centre, Folkestone’s local support network for the homeless.  KRAN – the Kent Refugee Action Network, also benefit from any extra loaves.

“Last year, and I don’t see any reason why we won’t do it this year – we ran a scheme where our customers could pay for a loaf of bread and it would be donated to the Winter Shelter.  We ended up supplying them with bread for the 3 months the Shelter was running.”

Working in the real world

The focus over the past 18 months has been on building the wholesale offer, but Pete and Wes want to make sure there’s a decent offering for the public, which is where they can be creative and experiment with making different products.  With all the early mornings, and huge customer demand for bread and beer, are there any pangs to return to the old job…? “I don’t ever find I want to return to my old job stuck at a computer.  I do go back to it occasionally, as my Dad runs the business I used to work for.  It’s nice to use your brain in a different way, and that’s nice to dip your toe back in but I very soon realise why I don’t do it anymore!  I enjoy doing something physical, it sits with me better.  Dockers is more ‘real world’.  I like that.”

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