From humble beginnings in a lean-to at its founders’ home, Lovingly Artisan has become one of the leading artisan bakeries in the country – and one of the best retailers.

The Cumbria business has twice been voted the best artisan bakery in Britain by its industry peers. In April, it was named Retailer of the Year at the 2024 Farm Shop & Deli Retailer Awards.

Lovingly Artisan is the creation of husband-and-wife team Catherine Connor and Aidan Monks. He has been a baker for more than 30 years and specialises in slow-fermentation breadmaking used to produce sourdough loaves, while her previous career was in marketing and sales training.

The combination of their skills has proved to be a recipe for success. Lovingly Artisan has developed a reputation for quality products, particularly its sourdoughs, and has a loyal customer base that Connor dubs the “tribe”. It now operates from two sites – soon to be three – and supplies some of the most prestigious restaurants in Cumbria. Its loaves are also sold in Booths’ Kendal store and the retailer’s recently renovated store in Windermere.


Aptly for a business focused on slow-fermentation baking, the couple have taken a steady approach to developing Lovingly Artisan, starting from modest beginnings at their home 15 years ago. Using a conventional oven, Monk produced around 20 loaves a day, selling the bread to travellers at Oxenholme railway station and a few wholesale customers.

“Aidan always says the beauty of starting like that is that you can develop your skills and your customer base organically,” explains Connor. “That way you’re growing the business really gently, really slowly, and are managing expectations at that level.”

It was while selling their wares at Oxenholme Station that the couple came to know Jenny Thompson and Nick Johnson, co-founders of the Altrincham Market food hub in Greater Manchester.

“Jen and Nick used to travel into the lakes through Oxenholme Station,” says Connor. That friendship led to Lovingly Artisan opening a bread stall at Altrincham Market. “People think it’s strange that we’re here in Cumbria and also down on the outskirts of Manchester, but a lot of our wholesale business is down there.” 

As business grew, Lovingly Artisan moved to its current base on the Lakeland Food & Business Park, which is just north of Kendal and is also home to Plumgarths Farm Shop.

“We took a bit of a leap of faith to come here,” says Connor. “It was bigger than we needed, as small, artisan bakers, but we felt it was the right thing to do and was a place that we could mature into.”

Moving the business into a former production unit on the site, Monk, Connor and her son Niall hand-built a small retail area using furniture they had at home. “It wasn’t until two years later, when we had developed a strong customer base and a broader offering, that we felt we could afford to refit the shop out as it is today.”


Lovingly Artisan’s other retail outlet is mobile – a bread truck that Connor describes as one of the best things the business has ever done. The use of the truck, named Florence after a former staff member, was a direct result of the pandemic and consequent lockdowns.

“At that time, we needed to be nimble, we needed to be able to move around within our region to where our consumers felt safe to be,” Connor says.

Acquiring ‘the shell’ of the truck, she, Monk and a blacksmith friend turned it into a mobile bread shop that now travels to farmers’ markets. “Since the pandemic it’s been one of the best marketing tools we’ve had. We set ourselves up for the day and it’s like a little magnet. We’ve got fairy lights up; it draws people into the counter and is a real eye-catcher.”

All production is now done at the Lakeland site. Loaves were previously also baked at Altrincham using an electric oven, but that stopped following the spike in energy costs.

Three years ago, a wood-fired oven was installed at the Lakeland bakery, a move designed to be environmentally friendly while also boosting the quality of bread.

Sustainability is a key concern for the business, which uses flours from suppliers Matthews Cotswold Flour and Gilchesters Organics. The latter grows and stone-grinds cereal crops that have been developed to thrive in a regenerative mixed-farming system without chemical pesticides.


“We are primarily organic, which is a choice we’ve made not just for people’s health but for the fact that our grains don’t travel too far,” says Connor. “We think long and hard about the ingredients we use.”

The business also encourages its customers to reuse bread bags and supplies some pre-packed products in packaging that can be recycled at home.

This includes Northern Blisscuit, a biscuit-style product that is described as being suitable for use on a cheeseboard or as a snack.

“Our Blisscuit hasn’t got the bite of biscuit – it’s a bit softer than that,” explains Connor. “Our aim was to keep everything simple, with what our consumer was doing in mind. We’ve created packaging that’s easy for us to use, easy to retail, and travels really well if people are sliding things into a rucksack or a school bag.”

She adds that one reason for developing the Blisscuit was creating a product that wouldn’t be a competitor to the business’s loaves. “Every loaf has to be on counter for a reason.”

Further new product development is on the cards, including a wider savoury range, after Lovingly Artisan opens its third bricks-and-mortar location later this year in Burneside, a village just a few miles from Kendal.


“We’ll have more space and freedom at Burneside to do additional things we’ve always wanted to do,” says Connor. “We want to broaden our range and also retail items associated with artisan baking, such as bakery baskets and aprons.”

In addition to a bakery and shop, Burneside will be the site of Lovingly Artisan’s first foray into milling its own flour. The business is working with consultant Andrew Wilkinson of Gilchesters Organics to develop the mill, which will be run by Niall.

Also on the cards is further expansion of the workforce, which is currently 38 and is set to grow to 42 by the end of the year. “We’ve got an incredible team, and we want to create really great futures for all of those within Lovingly Artisan,” says Connor.

The business works closely with the hospitality and culinary department at Kendall College, taking students on work placements and employing some of them.

“One of our main mixers was a student from Kendal College, who came to do work experience. Now he’s full-time and we can’t imagine life without him,” Connor says.

She sees being named Retailer of the Year at the 2024 Farm Shop & Deli Retailer Awards as recognition of the hard work of the Lovingly Artisan retail team. “It was a joy to win retailer of the year. This was one for our bread store team – those that serve at the counter.”

The award, presented to Aidan at the Farm Shop & Deli Show in April, will sit alongside the host of other accolades won by the business. Monk was named Baker of the Year at the 2019 Baking Industry Awards, and Lovingly Artisan has twice been named best artisan bakery in Britain at The Artisan Collective event organised by The Grocer’s sister title British Baker.

FSD Retailer winner Lovingly Artisan

From left: Farm Shop & Deli Retailer Awards chairman of judges Nigel Barden, Matt Whelan of awards sponsor Fieldfare, and Aidan Monks from Lovingly Artisan

Connor adds that it was particularly rewarding to win the Farm Shop & Deli Retailer of the Year accolade after entering a number of times in the past. “The awards are so well done. I always take notes of the other businesses’ profiles and what judges say about them. For the past three years we’ve really studied what they’ve said, and what we need to do to improve and develop.”

While such accolades might encourage a business to expand rapidly, Connor and Monk are determined to maintain their slow and steady approach. “The development of the mill and the additional bread store will be not necessarily be the end of our growth, but we’re not in a rush,” she says.

“We don’t have a great vision of having 12 outlets, for example. We want to keep enjoying the business and we want our team to enjoy it.”