Master baker Harry Allen will bring home the bread no longer when he retires today after what he fondly refers to as “54 years of making dough”.
The 68 year-old former owner of the City Home Bakery at Sackville Street is set to turnover a new leaf when he and wife Breige officially hand over the reins of the business they “started from scratch” to new owner Lisa Meehan today.
Harry admits it will not be as difficult as some might imagine to hang up his ‘whites’ after so long as he and his wife are looking forward to baking in the Tenerife sunshine as early as this time next week. Having become grandparents to Lilymae and Lyndon Oisin in recent weeks, the couple are keen to get through a “hectic retirement schedule” doing all the things they couldn’t enjoy while working.
A Moville native, who was brought up in the Coast Guard station in the town, Harry has had quite a career as a master baker. Having been employed in the exclusive Dorchester Hotel in London during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Harry served up the very best of speciality breads for not only the rich and famous but royalty as well. “I made bread for Queen Elizabeth and other royalty, including a number of sheiks from the middle east.” He also recalls serving up some of his delights for legendary Hollywood crooner Dean Martin. “Everyday I made two loaves without salt for Sir Robert McAlpine who owned the Dorchester,” he said. He described the construction magnate as a man “who made a point of meeting every member of staff personally on Christmas day to give them a bonus of 10 shillings.” Harry also worked for periods in several other top London establishments including the Mayfair and Grosvenor House hotels. All the while wife-to-be Breige, whom he met at Borderland in Muff, was by his side.
Harry’s apprenticeship at Mickey Doherty’s bakery in Moville served him well throughout the years. At the age of just 14 he turned up at what was then one of three bakeries in his home town (those of Daniel Doherty which still exists, George Kelly and Mickey Doherty) and stayed on for ten years.
When he finally returned to Derry in 1973, Harry was employed at the Taylor Cone and Wafer plant in Pennyburn and reckons he was “probably the first man to make a wafer cone in Derry.” After stints at Uppercrust in the Diamond it was onto Mothers Pride at Northland Road before finally setting up the family business with Breige at Enterprise House in 1984. Unfortunately riots sparked by an Orange march at Drumcree in July 1996 led to the business being burned to the ground along with Jackie Mullan’s Bar. “Breige’s brother was sitting in his home in London watching the tv and saw the building on fire - he phoned us and that’s how we found out.” The City Home Bakery then moved to its current premises at nearby Sackville Street, where Harry and Breige’s four grown up children have helped out over the years. Indeed daughter Nicola still works at the popular bakery and will continue to do so under the new management.
Harry and Breige will wish Lisa and her team “all the very best” in her new departure in the baking businesses. Ahead of today’s big hand over, Lisa said Harry’s skill and presence would be “missed” around the bakery. “We’d like to thank Harry for all of his kind support and wish him all the best in his retirement, of course he’d always be welcome back,” she added.