The majority of people probably won’t look back on the COVID-19 pandemic as a time of great opportunity, but for Darvella Patisserie’s owner Giorgina Venzin and head baker Lindsay Krahenbring, it was just that.
Standing proud by the river on the ground floor of a redeveloped former industrial building in the Brisbane riverside suburb of Bulimba, the brand-new bakery and patisserie made its official landing over the Christmas break, opening on January 1, and has already won the hearts of Queensland’s sweet tooths.
Opening a business is a nerve-wracking process at any time, let alone during a global pandemic when so many others have been forced to close. But for Lindsay and Giorgina it was a no-brainer following the roaring success of their popup bakery located at Pawpaw Café – which along with Mons Ban Sabai and Monocle Coffee is also one of Giorgina and the Venzin Group’s businesses. In fact, it was somewhat serendipitous owing to the fact Linsday came onto the scene after losing her previous job to the pandemic.
“Last year when we all went into lockdown, Gina was looking for a pastry chef to do a popup bakery in Pawpaw just to get some extra income and whatnot,” says Lindsay.
“I started working for Gina because I’d lost my job due to COVID, and we did a little popup bakery on weekends and the response was so positive that she said a few times, ‘oh maybe we should open a bakery together’. I was a little hesitant, but after seeing how successful it was, we decided to go ahead and open Darvella.”
Despite being a little daunted, Lindsay says that Giorgina’s marketing and PR prowess made the opening easier.
“And because Pawpaw has such a big following, we’ve kind of piggybacked off that which made it a lot easier,” she adds.
“Doing the popup bakery for about six months at Pawpaw and having such good comments about that kind of helped as well.”
The success of the popup products isn’t all down to Pawpaw’s popularity though: Lindsay is top-notch in the pastry field, having earned her qualification at Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar & Grill after starting her career in hospitality as a waitress during high school. She went on to run the pastry kitchens at Quay and Bentley just to name a few and more recently, she’s worked at Flour & Chocolate in Morningside and Daintree eco lodge Silky Oaks.
Owner and General Manager Giorgina is also a hospo veteran despite being just 30 years old. From age 13 she was working part-time washing dishes in the first Venzin restaurant, then worked as waitress and maitre’d before graduating from the University of Queensland with a degree in Business (Hospitality and Events) and opening Pawpaw Café.
From its modest beginnings, Darvella now has a staff of around 12-15 including six full-time chefs and a combination of full-time and casual front-of staff workers. Open seven days a week from 6am-2pm, weekends are all-hands-on-deck to cope with the rush of customers looking for their European-inspired bakery fix.
Named for the town in Switzerland where Giorgina’s father, Raymund, grew up, Darvella lives up to its Swiss inspiration.
The bakery’s functional design consists of timber, terracotta and flagstone paving. Out front, there’s a bi-fold window for takeaway coffee orders, while inside offers customers a glimpse through to a large kitchen at the back, which also serves as a production kitchen for Pawpaw and Monocle Coffee.
“Everything inside is a little bit of a European style to go with the name,” says Lindsay, who creates her menu using sustainable organic flour from Gunnedah’s Wholegrain Milling, Canary Butter from New Zealand and local Emu Creek eggs.
“We’ve got our Swiss cheeses that we’re putting in our croissants, sandwiches and salads.”
One of the biggest stars of the Pawpaw popup was Lindsay’s filled doughnuts, which has continued at Darvella. However, the real star of the show now is the patisserie’s signature triple-tier baby cakes which can be bought off the shelf or pre-ordered with custom colours or designs.
“They’re basically a four-inch cake; they feed about four people, but they’re decorated kind of like a wedding cake, says Lindsay.
“They’re like miniature versions of wedding or event cakes. Lots of people come and get them for baby showers and birthdays and things like that, but also we’ve started doing some baby cakes for real estate agencies around; they give them to people who have just bought houses with them as a gift.”
As well as beautiful croissants and sweet pastries, bread is a staple in Darvella’s everyday range, with rustic sourdough loaves, rye, and on weekends the Swiss-style Challah – a braided loaf – makes an appearance. a deli section that’s serving Swiss cheeses from Eudlo-based Fromart, and sister venue Monocle Coffee’s house-blend espresso.
There are obviously a few crowd pleasers, but Lindsay says she and the other chefs also like to keep things fresh in the weekend display case by playing around with new products and flavours each week.
“We try to do it on a weekly basis and mainly roll those out on a weekend because we know it’s going to be busier,” she says.
“It’s good because it gives us the weekdays when it’s a bit more quiet to have a think about what special flavours we can make for the weekend and put them in the cabinet when we know it’s definitely going to be busy.
“I always get my inspiration from just making things that I like to eat. At the moment I’m training a team of five chefs and most of them are relatively new – this is either their first or second job as a pastry chef – so I’ve kind of taught them what we’re doing as our signature items but then also kind of giving them a bit of freedom to create their own ideas instead of me just dictating.”
Of course, who better than the chef to ask for a recommendation of what to try first at Darvella?
“My favourite is definitely the salted caramel doughnut, or just anything caramel”, Lindsay says.
“I’m a big caramel fan!”