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Gorgeous UK organic bakery

This a tale of two Hastings. There is New Hastings, with a seafront rocking with amusement arcades, chippies, tattoo parlours and shops selling rock candy. And there is Old Hastings, quiet, quaint, higgledy-piggledy in a pretty, orderly kind of way, with secondhand book shops, antique shops and Judges.

The front of Judges has a slightly saggy look, the way old shops should. The name leaps out of a sky-blue fascia, and the windows are filled with fat eccles cakes, curly-whirly Chelsea buns, doughnuts, Viennese hearts, pink meringue pigs, coffee and walnut cakes, apple turnovers and Easter choccies. Green & Black’s Easter choccies, to be precise.

I had never thought of Craig Sams as a curly-whirly man. He was the magus of macrobiotics, the fellow who years ago led the organic healthfood charge with Whole Earth Foods, and who persuaded the nation that you could eat chocolate and feel good about it, so long as the chocolate was Green & Black’s. Sams stood down from most of his corporate responsibilities a few years ago, to cultivate his kitchen garden in East Sussex and to become a big cheese in the Soil Association. But the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep, because two years ago, supported by his wife, Josephine, he took over Judges, a bakery and tea shop in Hastings with a good local reputation, and turned it into … what?

Well, if I didn’t think the couple might find the description objectionable, I’d say a mini-supermarket devoted to things organic. Besides the breads and pastries, it sells an intoxicating jumble of goodies. There’s a small, well-chosen cheese section, a mini-meat section, fruit and veg in baskets, coffee from the Monmouth Coffee Shop, apple juice from Oakwood Farm, Steenbergs spices and shelf after shelf of packets, pots and packages, all tip-top organic – “2,000 altogether,” says Craig, “more than Tesco or Sainsbury’s. And as much as possible is produced locally.”

“And we’ve tasted every one of them,” says Jo. “If it doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t go on the shelves”

It makes money, too – “more money per square metre than Sainsbury’s,” says Craig, dryly.

When they took over Judges, the couple didn’t announce that everything would be organic, because they didn’t want to scare off the regulars. “We let people get hooked, then we told them,” Craig says.

He is particularly proud of his eclectic mix of clientele. It’s not just well-heeled weekenders stocking up on premium products. “We get fishermen, workmen, little old ladies, and first thing in the morning the street’s lined with builders’ vans collecting sandwiches for lunch.” Craig is also working on links to schools and a primary care trust. Ethical principles run as strong in the Sams family as entrepreneurial ones.

Could Judges be a model for other shops of this kind? Put it this way, there was a man from the Soil Association who had come to see how it all worked, and he was filling a basket at the same time.

Judges Bakery 51 High Street, Hastings, East Sussex, 01424 722588

Article by Matthew Fort for The Guardian UK, April 7, 2007

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