I ditched my teaching job to become a  ‘grumpy baker’

A former Cork city teacher gave up her pensionable job to follow her dream of opening up a bakery in East Cork. CHRIS DUNNE catches up with Sharon Gleeson to find out about her new venture, The Grumpy Bakers
I ditched my teaching job to become a  ‘grumpy baker’

Sharon Gleeson and her partner Cathal O'Mahony at The Grumpy Bakers

THE only reason you’d feel grumpy following the waft of sweet-smelling pastry and freshly-baked sourdough bread, is when you have to join the winding queue around the block to get into the Grumpy Bakers for a slice of heavenly cake.

“It is like a dream come true,” says the new baker on the block, Sharon Gleeson, who swapped her teacher’s hat for her chef’s hat in opening The Grumpy Bakers.

“I’ve always dreamed of opening my own bakery. And now I do!”

Sharon, delighted with life, is not at all grumpy, considering she’s sold out within two hours every day since opening the doors on August 12.

“The first couple of days the cafe ran out of bread, cakes and pastries. It was mad!

“We are thrilled with the response from the people of Midleton and Cork in general,” says Sharon, from Farran, whose mother had encouraged her to bake since she was a little girl.

“I’m a better baker now than she is!” jokes Sharon.

“But you know, anyone can do it. I am sure lots of people perfected baking during lockdown.”

But not everybody gives up their secure pensionable job and takes the plunge to open a business in uncertain times.

“Opening a new business, you’d be nervous for sure,” says Sharon.”

But she did her homework.

“I saw a gap in the market for a neighbourhood bakery baking fresh bread and pastries on-site daily. There are not many bakeries in the east Cork area making sourdough bread in-house. There used to be five of these places in Midleton before now but now we are the only one,” she says.

Sharon, in opening her flourishing floury business, is providing the perfect mouth-watering mix for eager locals to savour. Cinnamon twists, chocolate hazelnut babka, roast peach and raspberry Danish, bouncy brioche, crunchy chew brownies, all displayed so tastefully, you don’t want to touch them.

But you do want to eat them!

“The brownies and mini banana breads are selling like hot cakes,” says Sharon, flushed with the success of her bakery.

“If you are going to make the decision to open a business; I think you know when the time is right for you,” she adds. “And if you have the right product and you have every faith in it, then I’d say go for it.

“People might have thought we were mad opening at a time like this but we have been planning it since early March. When we spotted a gap in the market, we saw this place on Broderick Street which we thought was perfect and we went for it.”

Why does she think there is such a demand for her product from her idyllic business which is sold out by mid-day every day?

“I use the best of Irish and locally sourced ingredients,” says Sharon, who knows how much people enjoy the pleasures of home-baking.

“Our flour for the spelt, rye and sourdough breads is from Oak Forest Mill, our wholemeal flour from Kells and Dunay; the butter for the pastry is Irish gourmet butter, the sausage meat is from Murphy’s butcher, Midleton, who have their own abattoir.”

And, being neighbourly, Sharon gets her relish from Ballymaloe.

The chocolate isn’t local though?

“It’s Belgian chocolate!” says Sharon, handing me an ooh–la-la chocolate filled croissant; the flakiest butteriest pastry transporting you to Paris in a melt-in-your-mouth moment.

Sharon, with a firm belief in herself and in her artisan sourdough upper crust bakery, has another vital ingredient to make her venture a success.

“My partner, Cathal is a wonderful support,” she says.

“Cathal has his own window fabricator business and he helped me fit out the shop, getting the fridges and the baking equipment installed.”

He is an all-rounder.

“He helps me out a lot in many ways,” says Sharon.

“Cathal is really obliging and I couldn’t manage without him. He’s the man power!”

He never gets grumpy.

Sharon laughs.

“No. Cathal is great and he’s really enthusiastic about our bakery. He doesn’t mind staying up late and getting up early to get our fresh bread, cakes and pastries on the shelves ready for our customers.”

Where did the name The Grumpy Bakers come from?

“Well, I think lots of people who get up at 2am every morning for work are inclined to be a bit grumpy at least for an hour or so!” says Sharon.

Baking 100-150 loaves a day, the couple are early very risers.

“We often get up at 2am to make dozens of loaves of sourdough, rye and spelt breads,” says Sharon.

“And we don’t go to bed until after 10pm. The bread has to ferment for 24 hours. Working away baking and cooking, we look out the window and it is still dark for hours until the sun comes up.”

Their social life is out the window.

“Yes, it is!” says Sharon. “But we don’t mind. The Grumpy Bakers is our passion. Cathal and I always loved going to bakeries when we were travelling abroad. I lived in Dublin for five years and I did loads of baking there. Now Cathal and I we have our own bakery which is amazing,” says Sharon.

“My dream was always to open a bakery similar to those you’d see in France or Portugal.”

Even though she loved teaching her pupils at St Patrick’s National School, Gardiner’s Hill, she switched occupations to make her life-long passion a reality.

“I loved teaching,” says Sharon. “It is a very rewarding job. I think the pupils and the teachers face a challenge going back to school during Covid 19. I know that there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes making classroom conditions safe. Children are very good to adapt to situations and the teachers are well tuned in knowing what they need to do so school can resume.

“The children need to go back to school at this stage and resume some semblance of normality.”

Can Sharon and Cathal exist on very little sleep while running their business?

“Next week we have another baker coming to work here with us Martín, who is French and who has a lot of experience.”

The Grumpy Baker is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8am to 4pm, on Saturdays from 9am to 3pm and on Sundays from 10am until 2pm. Find them on Facebook and Instagram.

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