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My Business: Joanne Hunter, keeping a Lake District tradition running


Tell us about your business…

Sarah Nelson, a cook from humble origins, invented Grasmere Gingerbread in 1854 and started selling it from her home in Grasmere, now the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop. Victorian tourists would pass Sarah’s original ‘pop-up shop’ to reach an adjoining churchyard where William Wordsworth is buried. 

As the reputation of Grasmere Gingerbread grew, Sarah had to work round-the-clock to satisfy demand. After her death in 1904, the business was passed to her great-nieces. I am the third generation of my family to safeguard this historic and unique culinary legacy.

How has the business grown since the early days?

Massively. I am sure Sarah Nelson would be amazed at just how popular globally her humble gingerbread has become. I think there was a real surge after World War II when people had more freedom to travel to the Lake District. As road and rail networks developed, it became easier for more visitors to reach what had been a relatively isolated part of the country. In 2000, when I came onboard, we only had three full-time members of staff, plus one part-time and one seasonal. Now the team has expanded to 16.

Can you run me through a typical day? 

There is no typical day, which keeps everything exciting, fresh and new! But it would include picking up the phone to personally speak to a customer, taking a mail order, showing a new member of staff how to wrap Grasmere Gingerbread in traditional parchment, rewriting copy for new packaging, discussing staff uniforms, trying out new products or dealing with a corporate order. 

What’s been the highlight for your business so far?

When Prince Charles visited after the terrible floods of 2015, I felt very emotional and proud of everything that we have achieved. 

What’s the strangest request you’ve had from a customer? 

Can we make a Grasmere Gingerbread brick and put it in the window as a surprise for a man’s girlfriend (a planned engagement surprise)? Can we supply enough Grasmere Gingerbread to HMS Collingwood to build a life-size gingerbread house? We try to keep our customers happy even if it adds nothing to the bottom line. 

What one thing couldn’t your business function without?

All the wonderful ingredients for our secret recipe. The original copy is stored in a bank vault for security reasons. 

What’s the best thing about working for yourself?

There is no-one to answer to except our customers! It is sometimes daunting but always exciting as every day you continue to write another page of the history of the business. 

And the hardest part? 

Working within a listed building that puts great restrictions on what we can do. Every inch of space is used to its fullest extent!

If you could go back and change one thing what would it be?  

I’d make sure work relationships with family members were conducted 
in an official capacity.

How does your FSB membership help? 

Accreditation is wonderful when you need advice or simply to feel you are part of something bigger than yourself.

Where will the business be in five years? 

Hopefully still making our customers happy, giving more people rewarding employment and ready to make the next step up, whatever it may be.

What do you do outside work? 

I love the theatre but my three children have traditionally consumed what spare time I have!