Fitzbillies owner, Alison Wright, outside the Trumpington Street shopSusie Kirsten for Varsity

Name: Alison Wright

Hometown: Born in Edinburgh, raised in Cambridge

Fitzbillies founding date: 4 October 1920

Number of Chelsea buns made a year: 200,000

How was Fitzbillies started?

It was founded in 1920 by two men called Ernest and Arthur Mason – it still says “E. & A. Mason” in gold letters on the shop front. They came back from the First World War and used their “demob” money to start their business.

How did you become the owner?

I bought it out of receivership with my husband after it had gone bankrupt in 2011 and closed down. I was working in London at the time but saw on Twitter when Stephen Fry had tweeted that it had closed – that’s when I knew. I had grown up in Cambridge and felt strongly about it.

What did you do before?

I studied PPE at Oxford and then was the marketing director of an insurance company.

“I love being there for all the good moments in people’s lives”

What does a working day in your life look like?

No two days are the same! I could start at the bakery where I might be tasting products, or talking to the bakers about new product developments. Or I might be at home, dealing with landlords, leases, banks and other business matters. Then I might be in here again, observing customer service.

Any anecdotes from behind the scenes?

One of our staff members, Kirsty, works in the cake shop, and has done so for the last 15 years. She’s a great observer of trends and noticed that we get really busy at around 3.45pm, which she calls “scone o’clock”.

Favourite part of the job? Least favourite?

Favourite: I love watching the University year go by through the window. From really nervous kids and parents coming for interview, to everyone going down for the degree ceremony, or having tea and cake in here once they’ve got their degree. I love being there for all the good moments in people’s lives – like now, there are two ladies sitting having tea in the front window. It’s an absolute picture.

Least favourite: All the form-filling and paperwork comes with business ownership.

How has the menu changed over time?

In its early days it was known as a “confectioners”, as it was a bakery that made sweet things rather than bread. Chelsea buns were on the menu from the beginning and were sold for 1.5p! Before the second world war they were famous for the “Special Fitzbillies sponge cake”, which was orange-flavoured and had clementine peel in it.

“I think cake is very democratic!”

What’s your favourite thing on the menu?

I like a scone, jam and clotted cream the most. I also think our macarons are really good, and I’m really proud of our viennoiserie – our bakers’ pastry is just so amazing.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

An artist.

What is your favourite spot in Cambridge?

The view from Garret Hostel Bridge and Grantchester Meadows.

Do you notice a town–gown divide in your work?

I think cake is very democratic! We are for everyone: students who drink coffee while they write their essays, builders who stop in their van and come and get sausage rolls, families at the weekend for brunch, babies on their first outings, and birthday parties from 2 to 100 years old. We’re for the town and the gown, visitors UK-wide and international, the young and the old!


Mountain View

Meet Jack of Jack’s Gelato fame

You’ve just opened your new cake shop next door to the original bakery on Trumpington Street, what are your hopes for it?

Our cafe has always been so busy, with its tables hidden away behind the shop front. When the barbers next door at No. 52 closed down, we had the opportunity to take that shop too. This gives a bigger and better cake shop and the ability to sell lots more ice cream in the summer as well, while the original bakery at No. 53 can be the main cafe.

Why do you think people love Fitzbillies so much?

Why do they love it? I will get a bit tearful when talking about this because it means everything to me! I think it comes from a simpler time, you know? We do simple pleasures, the classics, the things you love, just really well delivered. The food is essentially homemade, straight from what you do in your kitchen.

If you could send a message to all the students here, what would it be?

Please come and visit! Find out what your favourite cake is.