Teesside’s Blondie Baker is taking her successful business to the next level – by opening a bakery and coffee shop in Norton. The treats-to-order service has gone from strength to strength since owner Amy Dalby set up three years ago.
So far, the 30-year-old has been running things from home. Now, within weeks, she’ll be sharing a premises with Levan, near the Highland Laddie on the town’s Leven Road.
Amy’s Blondie bakery will operate during the day with Levan serving its menu of wood-fired pizza and Greek food in the evenings. Levan opened in lockdown and fans say it’s the “go-to place for excellent coffee, proper mocha, delicious cakes, great chips and simply the best pizzas ever”.
Its owner, Daryl Chadwick, is one of the area’s top restaurateurs with links to Cafe Lilli, former restaurant DP Chadwick’s, which opened in Yarm in 1992 and Barker and Stonehouse eatery at Teesside Park over the years.
Amy says the two businesses will work side by side – and the partnership “just made sense”. “People can still order for birthdays, christenings anniversaries in exactly the same way they have come to love,” she says.
“I’m going to be able to have a counter service, people can come in have a ‘blondie’ and a coffee or hot chocolate with a friend.” Blondie Baker has built up a loyal following of customers, who buy ‘blondies’ for any occasion.
“People say ‘for the last three years, I’ve had a blondie pie for my birthday’,” Amy says. “I don’t want to lose that, without the ordering side, the business wouldn’t be what it is.
“People do like to say it with a Blondie, I’ve done everything from ‘congratulations on your new boobs’ to ‘He was a d*** anyway’, break-up Blondies.” During covid times, the “doorstep drop” was king as people hand delivered pick-me-up parcels to friends and family.
“It’s nice that people can get together now, people can take their dogs for a walk, do the duck pond or the school run and nip in,” Amy says.
But she did have “quite an issue with people ripping off the menu” during lockdown. “I’d come up with bespoke, quirky ideas and people literally copied them days after I’d posted them.
“I’d put time and money into developing ideas that were really new. One girl bought them off me on her personal profile then had them on her business straight after.
“People were trying to make a quick buck, doing it for pocket money during lockdown. Now they’ve gone back to doing normal jobs.
“It was a worry at the time, you think ‘are the orders going to stop coming, when is the bubble going to burst’. It’s quite nice that it hasn’t.
“I have to believe that it’s to do with the products, the business and the brand. I’m doing something right.”
Blondie Baker has almost 16,000 followers between Facebook and Instagram. And the majority of orders, Amy says, are repeat business.
“People order multiple times a month,” she adds. “I did SIRF [Stockton International Riverside Festival] recently, I opened the doors and the queue was 17 deep. I started crying and a girl said ‘are you okay?’.
“I said ‘I still can’t believe that people come for me’. I was a blubbering mess.”
‘People knock on the door at 9.15pm’
For Amy, who has a four-year-old son, having a place to bake means balance with her home life. “It means I’m not stuck in the house.
“It will be really good to be able to actually go somewhere to work, and shut up shop, rather than what I do now. I can have people knocking on the door at 9.15pm, I have to say ‘please don’t ring the doorbell’ if my little boy is in bed.
“It’s been lovely, but in the same vein it’s all consuming trying to be a mum and have set times, while falling over boxes of Kinder Bueno at home.” Orders will be baked from the premises, Amy is still planning to do markets and is also looking into a potentially exciting expansion into Newcastle.
The Norton venue is being fitted out and could open by next month. “It’s a pleasure to be asked to work with somebody like Daryl, who is a bit of a legend,” she adds.
“He’s been in restaurants and bars for 30 years and is an absolute powerhouse. Norton has such a hustle and bustle about it, the restaurants, the bars, cocktail places, and it’s so picturesque.
“It’s the place to be – people have said it for years. It’s got the schools and baby classes run out of the hall, I feel like it will be a great place to be. My little boy is at school now, so I’ve got the time to do this – it feels like perfect timing.”