Tue | Jul 23, 2024

UK-based J’can businessman wins national competition

To supply patties to UK’s fourth-largest supermarket

Published:Thursday | June 13, 2024 | 12:07 AMToussaint Davy/Contributor
Hot patties ready to be eaten.
Hot patties ready to be eaten.
The flaky patty pastry is prepared for baking.
The flaky patty pastry is prepared for baking.
Mike Williams (centre), holds up his team’s recent work.
Mike Williams (centre), holds up his team’s recent work.
From left: Jamaican High Commissioner to the UK, Alexander Williams; Mike Williams, co-owner and founder of Flake Bake Ltd and Camille McFarlane, consultant, JAMPRO- European Regional Office.
From left: Jamaican High Commissioner to the UK, Alexander Williams; Mike Williams, co-owner and founder of Flake Bake Ltd and Camille McFarlane, consultant, JAMPRO- European Regional Office.
Mike Williams (left) and his father, Paul Williams.
Mike Williams (left) and his father, Paul Williams.

Time, like one of his hotly rated patties, is an elusive commodity for Mike Williams, co-founder of Flake Bake Ltd, a Jamaican patty company based in southeast London. It’s early Tuesday afternoon and the compact factory is buzzing with activity. Knollis, Bog Walk-born Williams, who is also the company’s managing director, has exclusively invited Food into his headquarters for a tour and brief conversation.

Alongside a steady stream of walk-in customers – both random and regular – going into the front office to buy lunchtime patties in one of seven flavours, the hum of industry is palpable. Employees are either busily making up large patty transportation boxes for national delivery or they are simply active, indulging in the quiet consistency of excellence: making the coolest and tastiest street food Jamaica has ever given to the world.

Williams and his burgeoning business are growing exponentially due to his company winning a national reality TV show for food artisans. The unexpected win saw them secure an initial listing with Aldi, the UK’s fourth-largest grocery retailer, with an initial order for at least 25,000 patties across their more than 1,000 stores.

The show witnessed Williams and his father, Paul, secure their first commercial production contract in scenes that were as exciting as they were uplifting. Grilled and pushed relentlessly by Aldi’s Managing Director of Buying, Julie Ashfield, to extend the shelf life of their product and create meaningful packaging, the duo eventually won through the process. And therein, the reinvention of the humble patty for mass European consumption was born.

“We filmed the show in the summer of 2023. It aired on UK screens on April 9, 2024. By the morning of April 11 this year, we had sold just shy of 30,000 patties with Aldi. It was the fastest-selling product in that programme’s history. All sold out,” Williams grins.

“[Later, it’s] May 2024,” an enthused Williams continues. “We have had no television promotion and Aldi had ordered 100,000 more patties. We restocked them on Thursday, May 9. Within 72 hours, we had sold over two-thirds of what we had supplied them nationwide,” he reveals to Food.

But despite the success and current growth trajectory, at heart Flake Bake remains a family business. The majority of its staff are Jamaican expats and with nicknames such as ‘Loose Ball’, ‘Ninja’, ‘Pastor’ and ‘Handyman’, you’re met with production floor banter that is slick with the labrish of Jamaican Patois and a sprinkling of London cockney. This is a positive work environment. The staff are happy and their focus is supreme. Their good energy is tasted in the food they produce. There is a job here for every man, and every man (and woman) multitasks at their job. Their pride in their work is palpable.

“My staff know that they are the foundation of what is currently happening with our business. The concept of what we’re selling comes from them. They are the foundation of everything,” he affirms. The proud Flake Bake team is full of the experience of many careers, with many of the members having worked at rival patty and bakery companies in Jamaica. They bring with them to this small corner of the Commonwealth their culinary secrets, cooking ‘hand’, life knowledge and hands-on love of how to make the best and most authentic patty you can buy in a Great British supermarket for 99p.

“My Uncle Trevor had Sunsplash Bakery down in Peckham for years. Uncle was one of the first to supply Jamaican produce directly to Sainsbury’s and Tesco (the UK’s two biggest retail grocers),” Williams recalls. “From around 1997 my dad, Paul, worked for Uncle. That business eventually came to an end, and from about 2008 we started exploring our own path and business,” Williams reminisces. He himself left St Catherine in 2002 to complete his secondary to tertiary education in the UK.

As an economics graduate from Sussex University and holder of a master’s degree from the University of Warwick in business management, Williams was well-placed to build theoretical, modern management practices into their home-grown enterprise. “We initially sold harddough bread and bulla, and developed into making patties. I came into the business and introduced new production schedules, business structures, a company ethos and discipline,” he chuckles.

“After a while we just developed into making a standalone patty business. I had seen fellow entrepreneurs like Levi Roots, with his Reggae Reggae Sauce, start making major inroads nationally, so I could see that Caribbean food was on the rise,” Williams states.

But with such growth often comes pain. They’re expanding at such a rate that a move to an even bigger premises or even retail outlet seems inevitable. Williams continues: “There are two levels to this. On one hand, we haven’t reached full capacity at this facility in terms of manufacturing. We could be working 24 hours, but what you really need is a system where a patty is sold every time you make one; but in reality that creates a storage problem.”

Still, these remain ‘good’ problems to possess. With his phone constantly ringing from his business banker, current customers, media interviews, new business and potential investors, the business is in obvious rude health. “In reality, we need to grow and that means finding a new location. But, for those large orders we license the product out to a food manufacturer. We’re currently talking to three of the UK’s largest food manufacturers, because on the retail side of the business we’re already doing over 20,000 patties a week. To produce multiples of that we need a bigger boat,” he laughs. When you learn that one of their patties currently wholesales for around £1.50, the numbers quickly add up.

So, what makes Flake Bake patties so different? “Our unique selling point is that our patties are handmade,” Williams declares. “Aldi wanted something that they could get out to the masses. There’s no MSG, no celery. We don’t use any allergens. So, what they’ve helped us do is to bring a product to the market that is more commercially viable and acceptable.”

As for the immediate timeline, Williams says: “My dad is my biggest supporter, as he sees what I’m trying to do. He sees that I’m trying to educate the nation. It’s very simple: the Jamaican patty can go front and centre next to a British Cornish pasty. We have one of the best products and best cuisines in the world but at the same time, we are one of the least sold products in this country; that doesn’t make sense,” Williams shrugs rhetorically.

As for the longer-term future, Williams concludes: “We are going to be one of the biggest patty producers in Europe. In the same way that Hoover is synonymous with the word ‘vacuum cleaner’, Flake Bake will become the word for Jamaican patty.”

Toussaint Davy is the former editor of Touch Magazine. His published work, features and credits include BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, The Power List, The Independent, MOBO Magazine, Blues & Soul, The Mirror, The Sun, BBC News, MTV Base and various undisclosed ghostwritten projects.