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Popular Armagh bakery changes hands after 70 years in Johnston family

"Going forward we're retaining the staff that are already here and all the recipes will be exactly the same as they have been."

The new owner of Johnston's Bakery: Gareth Downes

After a number of months on the market, one of Armagh’s best-known family businesses – Johnston’s Bakery – has a new owner!

The Armagh institution, which went on the market as a going concern back in June after more than 70 years, will now be in the hands of another local family.

The business, most recently run by husband and wife Alan and Hilary Johnston and their son James, was established by Alan’s parents in 1952 and employs a total of 26 staff.

William John and Mabel originally opened it as a grocery shop and after a period of time decided to start making their own bread.

The new owner, Gareth Downes, is no stranger to the baking game, having served nine years in Johnston’s itself from the age of 16.

He then moved to the bakery at Linwoods for 22 years, where he climbed the ranks, eventually becoming assistant manager. Gareth then moved to Genesis Bakery in Magherafelt, where he was production manager for two-and-a-half years.

After a brief stint baking in an Armagh supermarket, Gareth admits he “fell out of love” with the baking and production life.

“I then pursued a new career as a locksmith and I worked with Noel Dillon in Armagh Locksmiths for a year,” he explained.

However, when Johnston’s Bakery was listed on the market, Gareth saw it as an opportunity to get back in the game.

“My son’s a baker as well, so he’s coming with me here. The both of us are taking this over as a family venture.”

Gareth and son Matthew officially take the reins on November 27.

He is keen to stress that the old Johnston’s Bakery that we all know and love is going nowhere, but there are a few exciting new ideas in the pipeline.

“We’re trying to get ourselves over the Christmas rush first, then what we plan to do is introduce new products and new development. Maybe a year down the line we will look at opening the coffee lounge back up!”

Gareth also hopes that his takeover will solidify Johnston’s reputation as a quality family-run business.

“It’s a good opportunity for somebody to come in here and take this over. Johnston’s Bakery was always a good family-run business and hopefully we can continue that on.”

He continued: “Going forward we’re retaining the staff that are already here and all the recipes will be exactly the same as they have been. The name won’t be changing either. It might be under new management but it’s still Johnston’s Bakery.

Hopefully the public of Armagh support us as they always have supported Johnston’s Bakery.”

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