Continental Crumbs

Continental Crumbs in the Press

Express & Echo 30/01/2010

Birgit finds her niche with a taste of home

AFTER surviving breast cancer Birgit reassessed her life and swapped her job in banking to start a business in baking.

The 43-year-old set up Continental Crumbs, from her kitchen in Lower Ashton, in May 2008, with the help of her partner, Oliver.

Back in Germany, where the couple are from, Birgit was a self-confessed 'workaholic'.

"I spent years training in banking achieving a host of qualifications," she said. "I would think nothing of working 10 hours a day for six days a week. I was really driven and got great feedback."

But in 2003 Birgit was diagnosed with breast cancer. Still in its early stage it was successfully treated with surgery and a course of radiotherapy.

"I was lucky to catch it early," said Birgit. "This meant I didn't have to undergo chemotherapy, which I was grateful for."The illness did mean that my outlook on life changed, but not with immediate effect.

"After my breast cancer treatment I went back to work fairly quickly, I threw myself back into the banking world and fell into my old habits.

"However, after six months I realised that I had learned nothing from my cancer experience and decided to take stock and do more of what I enjoy. I worked less and spent more time gardening, cooking and socialising with family and friends."

In May 2006 Birgit and Oliver made a life-changing decision to move to the UK as Oliver got a job at the Met Office. Birgit used the initial months after her move to learn English and get to know her local area.

"I fell in love with Devon," revealed Birgit. "I met some great local people and enjoyed living near the seaside and walking on Dartmoor. Plus, the climate is great for gardening."

Once she had grasped the language, Birgit found a job as a customer service advisor in a bank. She said: "I soon found out that banking just wasn't my cup of tea any more — probably, because it's just about money these days, rather than the customer."

Fortunately, Birgit managed to find an office-based position using her German language skills.

"As a hobby I spent each weekend baking cakes and biscuits which I've shared with my partner, our neighbours and our colleagues at work on a Monday morning," said Birgit. "People would often say to me that my cakes were really good and that I shouldn't sit in an office wasting my skills. It made me realise that you have to do what you enjoy in life."

Birgit used all her own recipes to launch Continental Crumbs, an authentic range of cakes, biscuits and German breads.

The menu at Continental Crumbs includes, German multi-grain, rye, Mediterranean bread loafs and rolls, German pretzels, Russian cheesecake, German red wine cake, cup cakes and a range of sweet and savoury biscuits. "Apart from my cupcakes, I haven't seen anything else similar to the sort of products I make anywhere in the region," said Birgit. "I get ideas from my friends and Oliver is my guinea pig.

"For example I was sitting with some friends in the garden this summer enjoying some wine, when they suggested that I should make chilli and cheese savoury shortbread. I successfully did this and now I also do cheese and garlic."

Ingredients are sourced from Devon wherever possible.

"I visit local farmers' markets for eggs and fruit. But I have to get some ingredients from Germany such as a special type of lemon zest for the lemon biscuits. I like to make sure all my products taste special, which means finding the best-quality ingredients."

Unfortunately, Oliver has since been made redundant from his job at the Met Office so now works on the admin side of Continental Crumbs. Birgit still works part-time in her office job, while Oliver delivers the goods all around Devon.

Continental Crumbs is stocked in a variety of local outlets including The Orange Elephant Farm Shop, in Kennford, Powderham Castle Country Store, the Ridge Cafe in Haldon Forest and Dart's Farm, near Topsham. Customers can also place orders on line. Birgit has high hopes for the future, She said: "It would be great to expand the business and sell the bread in more places in Exeter. We did a taster day stall in Exeter a few months ago and the bread went down really well.

"An 84-year-old German lady came with her daughter, she had moved over here after the Second World War when she married an English man. She told that she always had to go back to Germany to find German bread and was so happy to finally be able to get in Devon. The smile on her face really fulfilled me and that is what it is all about."