Meet the owners
On 4th October 2020 Fitzbillies will celebrate its 100th birthday. A century of Chelsea buns and all manner of cakes and bread, behind its original Art Nouveau facade. In a world where most businesses do well to last a few years or a few decades Fitzbillies is a survivor. In its 100 years it has survived war, fire, flood, bankruptcy and now pandemic, remaining as popular as ever through everything.
The recipe is simple – delicious food – the cakes have now been joined by great coffee and brunch – made and served by people who are proud of what they do.
What was the inspiration behind Fitzbillies?
On Monday 4th October 1920 the doors to Fitzbillies on Trumpington St opened to the public for the first time, ready for the start of the University term. Fitzbillies was founded by two brothers, Ernest & Arthur Mason, on their return from the First World War. (Interestingly the world had just been through a pandemic then too – Spanish flu). They had been born into a family of bakers and then as now the motivation was about making delicious food (first cakes and buns, now savoury too) that customers love to eat and we are proud to make and serve.
Fitzbillies has been part of so many people’s lives over the past hundred years, do you have any favourite stories about the business?
We feel very honoured that Fitzbillies has been part of so many people’s lives over the past hundred years. We love it when people tell us their stories, old and new – of Chelsea buns enjoyed as a rare treat in a post-war childhood, or after exhausting college rowing outings; of wedding cakes ordered from the same bakery down the generations, or a special afternoon tea or brunch that was the highlight of a trip to Cambridge.
For our 100th birthday this year we are collecting people’s memories of Fitzbillies – old and new and featuring them on our website. So if any readers have any, please send/upload your memories (photos and stories) to: firstname.lastname@example.org
or tag us on social media and use #fitzbilliesmemories
One hundred years is a long time to survive as an independent business, what does being an independent business mean to you?
It means we can bring our own values, enthusiasms and interests to the business. I love the heritage of Fitzbillies and baking and cake decorating, whereas Tim, my husband, who is a food writer and broadcaster is more focused on the savoury food.
What makes yours a green or environmentally friendly business?
Almost all of our packaging can be composted or recycled. We are part of the Green Coffee Shop scheme, which means that, rather brilliantly, our leftover coffee grounds are turned into logs that are sold to be burned on stoves or log fire.
How do you adapt your menu for vegans, vegetarians and people with allergies?
We’ve always had lots of veggie options on our menu, from Eggs Florentine to grilled cheese to our savoury tarts. In the past three years or so we’ve added many more vegan dishes and vegan variations. We make an amazing, huge warm grilled field mushroom sandwich and our vegan toasties are super-popular. Our range of cakes includes vegan options like our date slice and a great vegan brownie.
What’s your favourite thing about Cambridge?
Just one thing? There are so many. Right now I would pick cycling down Trumpington St on a beautiful crisp, clear, autumn morning, with the white of the Fitzwilliam Museum looming out-of-proportion against a bright blue sky.
What is favourite independent business in Cambridge that isn’t your own?
Cambridge Wines is just a fantastic business that we visit far too often. We are very lucky to have a world class wine merchant, on our door step, focused on finding reasonably priced wines to drink with dinner, rather than just investment wines for the super-wealthy.
What changes have you had to put in place as a business in 2020?
We’ve made a lot of changes as Fitzbillies branches tended to be rather busy, crowded places! We really want to make sure we keep customers and staff as safe as possible. We’ve reduced the numbers of tables in our cafés significantly, started taking bookings, streamlined how people move around the buildings and separated takeaway and eat-in more effectively. Our staff wear masks, and of course there are lots of opportunities to use hand sanitiser or wash your hands.
Why is it important for people to support independent business now more than ever?
All hospitality businesses have been through a tough time – and it will take years to recover completely. Most independent businesses do it for their customers and for the love of what they do, as well as the money. Everyone values support at a tough time, and it is your money that will pay the staff’s wages.
If you went to a desert island, what three things would you take?
1. Leatherman multi-tool – every small business owner’s friend – you never know when you will need a screwdriver, pliers or even lock-picking tools!
2. Factor 50 sun cream – I’m a bit ginger
3. The Fitzbillies Book (yes this is a bare-faced plug for our product) – but for me it’s got family photos (home and work family) memories of and recipes for delicious food and lovely pictures of Cambridge
What would be your superpower and why?
I can answer this without hesitation. My superpower is the power of delegation – I’m sure my family and the Fitzbillies team would agree! (I could still get even better at it though!)
What is your favourite animal?
The Fitzbillies chocolate mouse.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Trust your judgement and be (even) more demanding.
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