Lymington-based Beaky Blinders produces gluten, dairy and soya free bakes
A COUPLE who set up their own baking business offering exclusively gluten, dairy and soya-free goods say the driving force behind their venture was to make social and special occasions “more inclusive” for the growing number of people with food allergies and intolerances.
Nat Wallis and Em Graham, who have food intolerances themselves, know only too well how isolating it can be to have dietary needs that are not always well met, particularly when out and about.
In an effort to cater for those facing restrictions on what they can eat, and most importantly to make them feel included and welcome, they set up Beaky Blinders in 2021.
Nat has worked as a chef in pubs and restaurants, but was never a fan of baking until she developed a gluten intolerance after travelling around Asia.
“I wanted to try it out, and Em and I would have bake-offs at home in the kitchen,” she said. “We started out selling brownies in the car park of St Andrew’s Church in Dibden in 2021
“We initially needed to build confidence in what we were doing, and having the support of the locals was a great way of doing this.
“We started doing Christmas markets and then festivals in Bristol and Birmingham, and we thought it was going to be a slow burner but it was chaos – in a good way. Our stall had the longest queues of all the vendors and we were selling out completely, sometimes hours before the end of the day, at every event.”
In November 2022, Nat and Em, who have a regular pitch at Lymington market, moved out of their kitchen, which they were rapidly outgrowing, and into new premises at Setters Farm in Lymington.
They now offer more than 30 flavours of brownie alongside blondies, rocky roads and celebration cakes. On the savoury menu are sausage rolls, quiches and slices.
“Some of the people we’ve made celebration cakes for have never before had a birthday cake,” said Em, who works part-time as a teaching assistant. “One of our customers said she didn’t want any presents for her birthday – all she wanted was a cake. It made her day.
“For us, it’s more than just baking – we can see we are really making a difference to people.”
Nat continued: “We’ve been approached by people at festivals who, not expecting to be catered for, have had to carry doctor’s exemption certificates so they are allowed to bring their own food in.
“They say to us, ‘I can actually buy food from a vendor, just like everybody else’ – it’s nice for us to hear.”
The couple, who live in Hythe, want to get a trailer or horse box, and eventually open their own cafe.
“From our experience there’s definitely the demand for what we produce,” said Nat. “And we are regularly asked by our customers if we have a cafe.
“More and more people are becoming aware of what foods don’t agree with them.”
The pair are tired of seeing people with intolerances and allergies being ripped off by venues and caterers, recalling times they’ve had to pay full price for a burger without the bun or being required to pay “hidden costs” for gluten or dairy-free options.
“We really want to make our products affordable for people, because we can appreciate the struggle,” said Em. “People should be able to go out to eat without being charged the absolute earth.”
Nat stresses their food is not just for those with dietary needs, and invites people to judge their bakes by virtue of taste and quality over and above its label as ‘free from’.
“We sell vegan sausage rolls at Lymington market, and a guy used to walk past each week and take the mick, saying, ‘You’d never catch me eating a vegan sausage roll’,” Em explains. “One day we persuaded him to try one, and he loved it.”
Beaky Blinders supplies various shops, cafes, and food and drink businesses around the New Forest, including Forest Foodie, Brew Forest, the New Forest Tea Company, Yew Tree in Lyndhurst, and Number 15 cafe in Hythe.
The business, as well as going from strength to strength, has also picked up a few awards along the way, too, winning a New Forest Brilliance in Business accolade last year in the Food and Drink category.
Em said she and Nat value all of their customers “immensely”, and always welcome feedback from them in the form of reviews.
“Without them we wouldn’t be where we are today and I want to say how much I appreciate that,” she said. “And we are also hugely grateful to other local traders who have helped us along the way.
“It’s very much a community of small businesses.”
For more information about Beaky Blinders, visit www.beaky-blinders.co.uk