Over the past 18 months, the ‘pivot’ has been the backbone of many business plans—especially those in the food and hospitality industry. We take a look at some fine dining restaurants that, in the face of no sit-down eating options, created pop-up bakeries to get by—many of which have become permanent fixtures.
In an undiscovered corner of Brisbane’s most happening inner-city suburb, Fortitude Valley, is Agnes—the kind of restaurant you make a reservation (a must!) for if you’re feeling a bit fancy or have something big to celebrate.
Set in an old brick warehouse, Agnes combines “the drama, spectacle and ancient skill of cooking over fire” with contemporary hospitality to show diners how simple great food can be—including dishes such as beef tartare and grilled quail.
Agnes hadn’t even opened yet when restrictions and lockdowns came into play and only takeaway menus were allowed, forcing owners Agnes owners Ben Williamson, Tyron Simon, Bianca Marchi and Frank Li had to come with a way to get the woodfires burning.
Enter, Agnes Bakery. First making a pop-up appearance during stay-at-home periods, the fancy eatery’s baked goods—think woodfired sourdough, danishes, kouign amann and a very popular Basque burnt cheesecake—became so popular that on its second appearance during Brisbane’s late-March lockdown, die-hard fans lined up around the block.
It was clear Agnes Bakery needed its own digs, and that’s exactly what it got, opening in September on the other side of Fortitude Valley.
Co-owner Tyron Simon tells Broadsheet that the residential location is ideal for his perceptions of what a bakery means to locals.
“A bakery is something that you have in your neighbourhood,” he says.
“That’s where you get your bread. That’s where you get your cakes for significant birthdays. On a Saturday morning, you get your croissants, you get your pastries, and you sit down and you read the paper. That to me is people’s fondness for bakeries. That’s the role they played in my life.”
Vegemite and cheese scrolls are more commonly associated with certain two big bakery franchises, not fine dining, but for Melbournians who were lucky enough to get a taste of the scrolls put out by Attica founder Ben Shewry, it is a welcome connection.
In fact, Ben was one of the first to do the restaurant-to-bakery pivot—a bit of a pioneer, if you will. With the pandemic taking hold in March 2020 and Melbourne at the epicentre of Australia’s outbreak, Ben turned his Ripponlea-based fine diner, Attica, into a bake shop, cutting up tables to make shelves and recalling his teen years making bread at Woolworths—a job which he was actually fired from at 14.
“You know what I found out across the 5 days that we opened?” he writes in a post on Instagram after opening.
“That I really bloody like baking, and I’m not as crap at it as I thought, it felt good to open up and to absolutely flog myself baking around the clock.”
As he tells SBS, the bakery change was essential to keep his 42 employees in jobs.
“We had to change immediately,” Ben says.
“We were facing certain bankruptcy if we didn’t.”
Serving up the now-famous Vegemite scrolls, pull-apart garlic bread, a new spin on Cherry Ripe, wattleseed brownies, lemon myrtle caramels and a very decadent Basque burnt cheesecake consisting of three creams, the Attica Bake Shop, alongside Attica at Home (a take-home restaurant menu) kept diners happy and the business ticking along.
While not (yet!) a permanent fixture, the Attica Bake Shop has made further popup appearances during on-and-off Melbourne lockdowns, most recently in June. The pandemic isn’t the first time Ben has broken back into baking either; in 2019 he led a bake sale to raise funds for victims of the Christchurch terror attack alongside chefs from all over Melbourne.
Who knows, perhaps in the future the little Attica Bake Shop next door will be a permanent fixture?
Lace up your Roman sandals because we’re heading down to Flavio Carnevale’s Roman-inspired restaurant, Marta, which is now also a Roman bakery.
The Italian chef spent 10 years living in Rome where he worked for a baker before becoming a chef and moving to Sydney, so you can rest assured he knows his doughs.
When sit-down dining was scrapped last year as the pandemic swept the nation, Flavio set up a weekend bakery within days, as well as offering his restaurant menu take-away. Slinging Italian pastries, cakes, five types of bread, focaccias and pizzettas every weekend, Marta’s Roman Bakery has become permanent, with everything baked on-site in two ovens so fresh goodies are constantly hitting the shelves.
The pièce de résistance product that keeps the crowds coming back for more though is the sfogliatelle—a flaky, crunchy shell-shaped Roman pastry with gooey sweet or savoury fillings.
“It’s so popular,” Flavio tells Broadsheet.
“It disappears as soon as we put it on the shelf.”
Naturally, running a restaurant and bakery in one is pretty hectic.
“I spend all morning running – literally running – in a circle, from the kitchen to the counter and back to the kitchen,” Flavio says.
Marta’s Roman Bakery now opens Tuesday to Sunday from 7.30am to 3pm.
Café Paci, Sydney
This chic European bistro in the heart of Sydney’s Newtown is one of those eateries where the incredible menu can induce a panic attack over whether you’re pronouncing your order correctly (how do you say ‘Chiacchiere’?), so you just know it’s fine.
And with write ups in Gourmet Traveller, SMH Good Food Restaurant Review, Time Out, The Australian Restaurant Review, Delicious, Broadsheet and more, Café Paci has clearly made a name for itself.
Unfortunately, like many other venues, a glowing reputation couldn’t save Paci from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Starting a line of bakery products was clearly the way to go, and the crowds knew it—lining up each day to get their hands on the indulgent pastries, a loaf or potato and molasses bread, and a bottle of orange wine to make lockdown a little bit more bearable.
Owner Pasi Petanen saw the situation as an opportunity to pursue his dream of being a baker for a little while.
“In 2016, I wanted to start a bakery. But with Sydney rents and the cost of setting up, it was way too expensive for the return I’d get,” Pasi tells Broadsheet.
His limppu, a molasses-glazed sourdough that has been a signature of Paci and a highlight of any Cafe Paci meal, has remained popular—although it takes three days to make
“My favourite thing is the bread,” Pasi says.
“It’s a festive Finnish rye bread with potato and molasses. We eat it at Christmas and Easter.”
In fact, most of the baked goods from Paci have a Finnish flair and a bit of history, including a Finnish version of the Alexander torte that commemorates Tsar Alexander of Russia, which has been produced in Finland since 1818.
Although it isn’t permanent, the Café Paci bakery has given Pasi some flexibility as the city goes in and out of lockdown, allowing him to switch from café menu to bakery as rules and regulations change and stay afloat regardless.