It was a 180 degree turn. One minute Tayrene Mugridge was modeling on catwalks in Milan, Japan, the United States and Belgium; the next she was baking bread.
It all began when she was a toddler, when her late grandmother baked beer bread every Sunday.
“I used to be with granny and I’d say ‘granny, can I please pour the beer?’ It was a ‘you fight over it with your sister’, kind of thing,” says Mugridge.
“I used to make this as Christmas presents back in the day in a glass jar, with a ‘Happy Christmas’ label and a picture of a cat. All the ladies got a brownie mix and all the boys got a beer bread mix.”
The origin of the recipe is obscure. What is clear is that it was passed on from grandmother to Mugridge’s mother and then to Mugridge herself. It was she who vowed to turn the bread into a business. It was an idea that Mugridge came up with while making herself up for modeling.
Modeling was her life nearly a decade ago. After completing high school, she left for the fashion shows of the world—and all the lights and glamour that goes with it. When she returned to South Africa, with no university education, modeling was her only way to make a living.
She was worn-out by life on the catwalk, so she started a model booking agency which she ran for around eight years. But she grew tired of the business as well.
“I came home one day and said I was sick of it. I asked my fiancé if I could quit my job and he said, ‘yes, go for it’. And then I said, ‘but what am I going to do?’ And he said, ‘well, do the beer bread’. I looked at him and asked him if he was crazy. Who wants to buy beer bread? This was something I did on the weekends; I didn’t think it could be a career. And then it was,” she says.
It took two months without a paycheck to nudge Mugridge into giving the beer bread business a chance. The recipe was there, the flavors could be added. All that was left was the packaging and six months later she launched Barrett’s Ridge Beer Bread in August 2012.
“It has just taken off. I thought I’d be sitting at markets on the weekends begging people to buy my bread, but it’s going well,” she admits.
“I sent out a couple of drop boxes to some of the bloggers, I took it to some of the delis and orders started coming in. I got the website, Facebook and Twitter up and running, which is a great way of advertising, especially when you’re starting out and can’t afford marketing.”
Three months after launching Barrett’s Ridge Beer Bread, Mugridge received a message from an online kitchen store, Yuppiechef, via Twitter. They were starting a pantry section on their website and wanted to sell her beer bread.
Yuppiechef’s first order was quite small, Mugridge says, but then they asked for around 800 units.
“I managed to give them 400 loaves. I then called them and said I was sorry and would give them the other half later during the following week,” she remembers.
At the time, Mugridge was doing everything on her own, with the help of her fiancé. She made the beer bread mix, cut the material, stitched the packaging by hand and folded labels from her house. But this was a sign that she couldn’t do all the work alone.
As the orders increased, she outsourced the work to Zimele Packaging Solutions where they mixed the ingredients and did the packaging. This enabled Mugridge to focus on the management side of the business.
Today, without any marketing and just her website and social networking sites, Barrett’s Ridge Beer Bread is exported to Namibia and Australia and exporting over two tons to Britain in December. The bread is mostly sold at delis and some grocery stores in South Africa.
“I didn’t really realize how powerful social media was until I started tweeting and Facebooking… the distributor from Namibia found us on Facebook and she was coming to Cape Town to meet some of her suppliers. So she popped in for a meeting and we took it from there,” Mugridge says.
Some people complain that the bread is salty.
“Then I ask them, ‘what beer did you use?’” she says. The beer changes the flavor of the bread.
A simple recipe from her grandmother has helped Mugridge become a successful beer bread baker. It turns over around R150,000 ($14,000) a month.
“I asked my mom, ‘do you think granny would mind if I’m making money off her idea?’ She said ‘No, not at all. Not if you pay for me to go on a nice holiday.’”
And that’s the way the beer bread crumbles.