The definition of a cottage industry

Published December 09 2019
5 minute read



When you first meet Kate Jenkins you realise she is a force of nature. There is no other description - it fits perfectly. She runs the immensely popular Gower Cottage Brownies. Just over 10 years ago she started making brownies in the kitchen of her Gower cottage (can you see where this is going?)...
To say that the brownies that came out of that oven have proven a hit would be an understatement. The little business in the Gower now counts among its clients Richard Curtis, who has it on the set of his films, John Barrowman and the entire cast of The Archers. “We also supply the Welsh rugby team before every international match,” said Kate. “It started with Ryan Jones when he was the captain because he lives down the road and it's just gone on from there. It's become their one treat they can have.” And rugby is not the only elite sport that enjoys the delights of her brownies. She said: “Wimbledon came to us about five years ago because their chief executive had received a box as a gift and asked if we could resupply Wimbledon.” “I've never paid for advertising, I have just got a big mouth. I've gone from supplying the local mother and toddler group to supplying the green room for James Martin’s shows.” “It's also in the green room for A League of Their Own and Jamie Redknapp puts pictures on Instagram. That's the way to grow the business - we just let our brownies do the talking.”
Kate’s ethos is that instead of saying something with flowers, say it with brownies. She describes them as a “cwtch in a box”.“The price point is a lot cheaper than flowers and it still says the same message. Plus it is something the whole family can enjoy. It can be romantic, it can be loving, it's for old and young, men and women, in good times and bad.” “When I had my boys everybody sent me flowers and you'll never have enough vases and the last thing you want to do is arrange flowers - what you want to do is eat!” “It can be for kids doing their exams. It's a great way to wish them luck. Brownies equal brain power as far as I'm concerned.” It all started small for Kate. “When I started I had to work out how to ship them to people,” she said. “I had heard of people doing Welsh cakes by post so I wondered if it would work. So I made a batch of brownies and posted them from my local post office back to myself. I was expecting some crumbs to arrive but they came back and they were perfect.” “Then I thought ‘we need a website’. We had no money so I convinced a local woman to do a one page holding page and took some pictures on my phone.” “We had just won an award so I thought I would write myself a press release. I put that press release into a box of brownies and sent 10 of them out to the food editors of various websites and newspapers.” “It was genius because the brownies are very good and it’s landing on the journalist’s desk. They all wrote it up straight away and the Guardian said it sent them into a frenzy and BBC Good Food said they were some of the best brownies they’d ever tasted - it just kept rolling from there.”
For most of its life, Gower Cottage Brownies was based in Kate’s house. This can prove quite a challenge at busy times! Kate explained: “My husband, who to start with thought it was just a hobby and a way of keeping me quiet, had to leave his real job about six years ago. He now works with me!” “We have expanded the cottage and taken on employees which is great.” “We live in a rural area and it is perfect because a lot of our staff are mums living here with either young children or primary school children. They wouldn't be able to drive into Swansea for work and they need flexible hours.” “I've got three full-time and then I've got about 10 flexible staff. We're about five in every day but around Easter and Mother's Day we have a lot of others.”One of the challenges as the business has grown has been to maintain that rural Gower feel while increasing production. Due to the taste, and the care that goes into the production and presentation of the brownies, many customers are still under the impression that Kate is producing them in her Aga! In fact, the creation of the brownies took over much of Kate’s house to the point that she has recently upgraded to a different premises. According to Kate that was both a relief and a tough decision. “Two to three months ago we moved [production] out of our cottage to expand,” she said. “It's amazing to have my house back. In the latter stages we had a commercial kitchen out the back. We then had to extend what I called The Brownary which is where we do the cutting and wrapping.” “We had a marquee on the back for the last six months where people were doing that.” “We knew we needed more space and we knew we still needed to be local. We've managed to find an old country farm which is a mile down the road and we have literally just moved in to that.” “It is phenomenal. It's changed our lives. It's 3,500 square feet.” “People don't seem to realise how big the business is now. We've needed to move for four years. I can't remember what it was like to have a real house! I love going to work now.” As the writer of this article I can attest the brownies are delicious. A perfect cwtch in a box.