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Coasting into Copacabana: Burnt Honey Bakery

Coasting into Copacabana: Burnt Honey Bakery

This tiny seaside newcomer has quickly found its way into the hearts and daily lives of Central Coast locals.

Their coffee is strong, but their gluten-free game is stronger. And with a view to die for, Burnt Honey Bakery in the little seaside town of Copacabana on the New South Wales Central Coast is proving to be an absolute hit.

Despite the baptism of fire owners Hayley Thorncraft and Jo Fairall have experienced opening just before the catastrophic bushfires hit as well as the coronavirus pandemic, the community has welcomed the little bakery with open arms.

“We’ve been really, really spoilt,” Hayley says.

“They generally seem thrilled for us to be here; everyone’s so excited. Central Coast is an area that is definitely growing; there’s more and more stuff popping up but it’s still at the start of that rise, so I think we’ve jumped on at the perfect time.

“I hope that more people come and do the same thing. Seeing how well we’ve done and are doing, and how enthusiastic the community is, the Central Coast is ripe, and more people should be jumping on it.”

Coasting into Copacabana: Burnt Honey Bakery  Coasting into Copacabana: Burnt Honey Bakery

Hayley and Jo both have plenty of hospitality experience, and met when they were both working at Sydney’s famous Black Star Pastry in 2014, before getting married in 2016. Individually, owning a business was on the cards for them, so opening a bakery together was a natural progression and something they started talking about not long after meeting.

After travelling Europe and eating “all of the pastries, basically just going from bakery to bakery to bakery”, they found the right spot and went for it.

As for the choice of location, it’s not hard to see the appeal. Hayley says that at the time of our interview, there are whales in the cove across from the bakery.

“Everyone’s out there whale watching. Because the cove there where we are is like a meeting point for the whales, so they come in really close so we’re very, very spoilt,” Hayley says.

On seeing Copacabana for the first time, Hayley, who grew up on the Central Coast but had never visited, says, “it was just stunning”.

“When I went out to initially look at the shop with my mum, because Jo was at work, and drove down into Copa for the first time it was just like ‘oh my God, what is this place?’ It’s just idyllic; it’s gorgeous.

Although the shop was smaller than they had in mind, it had been a food business beforehand and had some of the fittings they needed.

“It just felt right so we went for it,” she says.

Opening in November 2019, it’s safe to say the first eight or so months haven’t been without challenges, but using their combined experience and that of their many friends in hospitality, Hayley and Jo have been able to weather the storm, even switching to delivery only for a few weeks in the thick of the pandemic.

“Look, we’re just so lucky that we’ve both had as much experience as we have in hospitality, so lucky, and that we know so many people in the industry that we could be like, ‘what do you reckon about this?’ So we had a lot of support, Hayley says.

“My parents live nearby so my mum was coming in working with us and she still makes all the cakes which is lovely.”

During those months, Hayley and Jo started focusing more on the retail aspect of the store, including stocking organic cheeses and nuts, and making crackers to go with them. This is an area they’re interested in expanding in if the opportunity arises.

“I think that’s a really smart direction for us to head in,” Hayley says.

“Expansion isn’t something we’re all that interested in – we’re not looking at opening up 10 Burnt Honey bakeries – but if we could find another little space where we could set up a deli style thing, then that’d be cute.

“But we’re just really taking it day by day. We’ve got such a tiny space so for us it’s always just going to be about trying to do the most we can with the limited space we have.

Jo comes from a hospitality family with her dad owning a winery in Mudgee, and her brother a chef, while Hayley’s passion for food comes from her Nan, sadly recently farewelled. In terms of the day-to-day running of Burnt Honey, Hayley and Jo stick with their strengths and make the space work for them.

“We’re very small, Hayley says.

“Jo manages the front of house and she’s been making coffee for about 20 years and managing cafes and things, so she’s got a couple of people who help her out a few days a week.

“There’re probably only three or four people who work front of house with her, and then in the kitchen with me, I do the bulk of it and then I’ve got a couple of guys who have kitchen experience, but not baking experience so I’m teaching them a bit to kind of take a bit of the pressure off me, because it’s a lot.”

 

Although the baking is all on her for now, Hayley says that keeping her product offering narrow, which she says “would be the smart thing to do”, just isn’t her strong suit.

“I get bored so quickly and so easily that I just can’t,” she laughs.

“Yesterday, the display that we had going was constantly changing throughout the day as we sold out of one thing and I put something else out – I can’t actually fit everything in the display that I’ve made for the day!

“I really enjoy it, and there’s something special about our customers. I’ve worked in other places where you put something new out and no one will touch it. They’re not interested, and they just want to go with what’s familiar to them. But they really do seem to trust me, and every time something new goes out there, people jump straight on it.

“It’s so rewarding, so fantastic, and it makes it really easy for me to play around and to stop from getting bored.

“Our bread offering is fairly simple because most of my energy goes into the pastries, because that’s really where my heart is.

“For me, it’s more about just keeping it really simple, really nutritious, so that people have got that good healthy staple and then indulging in the fancy stuff that I have a lot more fun making!”

One of those fancy treats Hayley loves to make, and one of Burnt Honey’s most popular products is the Kouign-Amann, which they’ve renamed the Copa Queen due to the pronunciation difficulties (I had to admit to Hayley at this point that while I’m familiar with Kouign-Amann, I’m glad I never tried to pronounce it before!).

“I only do them on weekends because they’re tricky to fit into the day when I’m doing a lot of prep but I do really enjoy making them,” Hayley says.

“I learned to make them when I was working very briefly at Dominique Ansel in London. And I also really enjoy making chiffon cakes. We do a gluten-free one which people just lose it over because it’s not normal to eat a gluten-free cake that is light and fluffy like a cloud, so people are super into that which is nice.”

 

The couple’s political and philosophical ideals also influence the way they run their business, with a big focus on environmental sustainability. In fact, Burnt Honey does not use disposable coffee cups at all.

“Climate change and just general waste are things that we feel very strongly about,” Hayley says.

“We had paper cups for I think the first two or three weeks but the plan was always to not have them. A friend of ours owns a business called Clay Cup Bank, so we were just waiting for him to get up and running, and as soon as we could we got his clay cups and now it’s like a deposit/exchange sort of system.

“We used paper cups for a little while there while we were in the thick of COVID, but we’ve since found a system that works for us so we can use the clay cups again and amazingly enough our coffee sales haven’t changed since we stopped having paper cups. People are super into it and generally get it.

“I think it’s possibly easier for us than it might be for other businesses because it’s so easy for us to say “we don’t have paper cups, but don’t you want to just sit and look at the ocean for five minutes while you have your coffee?” And we’re fine with people taking their cup across the road and then dropping it back when they’re done. So we’re in a very fortunate position where it’s easier for us to do that than it might be for some other businesses, depending on where you are.”

Hayley and Jo are also big believers in giving back through fundraising for causes close to their hearts, including recently the National Justice Program.

“Since we opened we’ve always made a point of fundraising for causes that we’re really passionate about, and this is one that’s really timely and super important,” Hayley says.

“And on top of that, I think generally speaking the artisan baking community is super white, so I think it’s important that if you have a platform, and you have good politics, you really are obligated to say something and do something, and that’s just what we’re trying to do.

“We’re trying to do what’s right.”


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