Fitzbillies first opened its doors in Cambridge on the 4th of October 1920.  This date was no coincidence – it was the first Monday of the university term, and then, just as now, the owners would have known that they needed to be ready for this busy time or year. 

Fast forward 100 years or so, and our two cafes and separate bakery remain as busy as ever, with our loyal and brilliant team working early hours and late nights to ensure that we only ever serve the freshest Fitzbillies treats to all. No matter what time, there’s something happening in some part of the place all day and most of the night…. 


The Fitzbillies day starts at 9pm when the night bakers arrive at the bakery, change into their whites and inspect the list for that nights bake.  Our online and wholesale customers plan and place their orders right up till 6pm, so the bakers never know what they will find.  Hundreds of dinner rolls for college feasts, brioche buns for burgers in gastropubs and always loaves and loaves of sourdough brand for toast at Fitzbillies.  The bakers get started with the weighing out, then mixing and proving, and by 1am, loaves are beginning to come out of the big stone floored ovens and into the wire cooling baskets.


The last batches are coming out of the ovens and the packers and drivers arrive to get the bread ready for delivery.  This is the time to visit the bakery.  The wire colling baskets are filled with every kind of bread and stacked up high.  Thousands of loaves and rolls.  By 7am it will all be gone.  The entire production cycle in ten hours, every night. 


The cake bakers arrive.  Their first job is to roll the Chelsea bun dough, which has been set to prove hours earlier by the night bakers.  They roll it super-thin so that is covers an entire table, slather it with brown sugar and currants and roll it up tight.  Then it’s cut into perfectly sized slices, and laid into one of the tins to bake.  Once the buns are out of the oven, they are brushed with Fitzbillies exclusive warm bun syrup and flipped over so that the bottoms can be syrup-ed too!  These are the last things to be loaded onto the vans to get to the shops before opening time.


As the vans leave the bakery, laden with breads and baked goods, for the short drive into town, the Fitzbillies chefs are arriving to start preparing breakfast and the baristas are switching on coffee machines.  They help the driver unload the vans, wheeling in trolleys laden with trays and trays of Chelsea buns.  Time to display them on the counters, just before opening.


Doors open at the coffee shops and the regular morning customer who work nearby call in on their way to the office.  Bacon rolls, homemade granola with yoghurt and fruit compote and pastries exchange hands as the commuters grab their Fitzbillies favourites.  The bicycle rush hour starts from 8.45 as waves and waves of undergraduates stream past both branches on their way to labs, classes, tutorials and lectures, calling into Trumpington Street in a desperate attempt to get their orders in before lectures start in the Mill Lane Lecture Rooms.


Whilst a more leisurely crowd arrives for a proper breakfast in our coffee shops, our on-line team back at the bakery are in full swing, printing on-line orders, packing gifts-a-plenty and buns galore.  Our bakers are getting on with trays of gooey brownies and delicious date slices; sponge cake bases are filled and iced; macarons are baked in every colour of the rainbow and bespoke cakes are hand-finished to make ready for collection too.  All orders are baked fresh and dispatched on the same day, and so the bakery is buzzing with activity all morning long.

12 noon 

Time for lunch. Midday shoppers, visitors, academics, meeting colleagues. The cafes fill up to capacity and queues form at the takeaway counters. The chefs are prepped and at their stations, waiting for the tickets to come off the printer. The specials of the day are on the blackboards – todays soup, savoury tart, salads.  The regular customers have their favourites: eggs benedict, chicken and asparagus salad and buck rarebit. And a Full English seems to work at any time of day.


We call this the lull in our cafes, and if you arrive at this time, you might be mistaken for thinking it was a slow day. But we know it’s simply time for us to regroup and wait for the tea-time rush. Back at the bakery though, the rush is on to make sure every order is perfectly packed, accurately labelled and ready to be collected by our couriers.


Scone o’clock. Magically a queue appears at the door. Well, if you found yourself in Cambridge at 4pm with a few moments or an hour to spare, where would you go? Tea can be anything from an elegant traditional English afternoon tea with a glass of champagne to a brownie in a takeaway bag to eat on the way home. And it’s not just our customers on their way home, hundreds of Fitzbillies packages are also now travelling to their new homes, ready to be enjoyed by many.


Closing time at the branches and clean down time at the bakery. Counters cleared and cleaned, chairs up on tables, bun trays washed and stacked for the next day and everyone’s out by 7.30pm. Unbelievable good fortune not to work at night if you are a chef or a waiter.

7.30pn to 9pm

This is the only time of day when the business isn’t working, so we take a deep breath and prepare for it all to start again, as the night bakers leave their homes and make their way to the bakery, and hundreds of Fitzbillies fans log on to the web to order their next batch of goodies.

May 18, 2023 — Zoe Gill

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