During lockdown, retail manager Aiden Ryan wanted to use his time constructively. Armed with only a whisk and a dream, first-time baker Ryan decided to try his hand at cake-making with a view to selling his wares to raise money for the NHS.
Fast forward to summer 2023 and he now runs two Loaf Mcr cake and café outlets – one on Manchester’s Oxford Road and the other in an Affinity Living apartment block in Salford. By anyone’s standards, that’s a pretty rapid rise to success, and it wasn’t even planned.
“I sometimes find it hard to believe myself,” Ryan laughs. “It began in 2020 during the first lockdown. I was at home and just wanted to fundraise for the NHS. It was never intended to be a business.
“I was going to bake 100 cakes and then go back to the day job, but lockdown went on and on so I kept going. Suddenly it blew up on Instagram and [coffee shop] Ezra & Gil got in touch to say they’d love to sell my cakes. I didn’t really know where to start but they encouraged me and my bakes did well over the counter. I then got lots of interest from other cafés and, within six months, I was supplying 13 different places in the city. Many don’t have time to make their own, so buying in from an outside source is a thriving market.”
Undoubted proof that, even in adversity, positive things can happen. The direction Ryan’s career was taking came as a complete surprise.
“I was moving to London to become a flagship store manager but the pandemic changed a lot of things, and when Ezra & Gil got in touch it felt like it was meant to be and I had to try it.”
As demand rose, it was clear that Ryan could no longer work in his tiny kitchen. So, he acquired a shipping container in Ancoats (as you do).
“I began the wholesale business in a 20-foot long container which enabled me to keep up with demand from cafés, as well as sell them myself on site. Luckily, my Dad is a builder so he helped kit the place out to meet all my needs. I’ve been lucky to get help from so many people to enable me keep up with the speed things progressed.”
Bake, cake, pink…
Murialist and graphic designer Oskar (with a K) was brought in to give the enterprise personality and an identity, including the striking pink branding and retro modern logo (similar to the buttercream squiggle on top of all the bakes). Ryan realised that Loaf Mcr had the potential to be its own retail brand.
“We continued to grow and I slowly stopped supplying cafés in order to fully focus on my own thing,” he explains. “Affinity Living got in touch and invited me to do a three-week takeover in their new block in Salford. It all went well and they asked if I wanted to take over the space permanently. By this time, an invitation came up to take over a store in Oxford Street that has been lying empty for two years. Although it all seemed like a lot to take on at once, sometimes momentum takes over and I decided to pursue both opportunities. We also took on an outlet in Selfridges.”
As the endeavour grew and grew, Ryan realised that he needed to build a team around him to cope with the overwhelming demand.
“There are now ten of us although I remain a hands-on member of the team as I can’t sit down. The people I got in are experts so can elevate the product beyond what I began. People and community are so important for me and I want people to enjoy working in our team. We’re still developing but there’s so much potential, particularly with the retro stylistic side of the brand.”
He adds: “I’m on an accelerator programme with NatWest. I attend their business sessions and share ideas with others which is really useful as it can be isolating doing your own thing. The sessions also help with policy and procedures so I can gain the skills and confidence to work on my pitch to investment groups, though right now business is about survival, stability and consistency.”
The retro influence is evident in the bakes that Loaf Mcr offers with biscoff, jammy dodgers and Vimto among the flavours that top the sponge base and butter cream goodies. More new, yet nostalgic additions are imminent (including Caramac). Bringing something fresh with a nod to the familiar is very much Ryan’s plan.
“We’re a vessel for nostalgia,” he says. “I want narrative so people recognise that we’re more than just a cake brand. As well as making and selling our own cakes and pastries, all our sandwiches are supplied by SndwchMCR and our special roast coffees come from Heart & Graft so we’re really trying to elevate the whole coffee shop experience. I’m passionate about how people respond to what we do.”
Main image: Studio Pluto