Food Pioneers

Today, Tasmania’s food scene is burgeoning. Fifteen years ago however, when all was quiet, it took a bold trio of foodies to cross the Bass Strait and to set up their own bakery. Now, the team behind Jackrnan and McRoss are among the leaders of Tasmania’s booming food scene.

Located in a rustic, heritage-listed building at iconic Battery Point in Hobart, Jackman and McRoss has evolved from a small bakery into a well-known name for locals and travelling food enthusiasts alike.

This reputation is no small feat considering co-founders Chris Jackman and Nerida and Justin McRoss personally renovated the 19th century building before opening the doors to their flagship bakery just five weeks later.

Producing homemade pies, pastries and breads entirely from scratch and using only the best, ‘real’ ingredients, the buzz around Jackman and McRoss began quickly and hasn’t stopped since.

According to Nerida the trio had originally been looking at businesses in regional Victoria. Nonetheless, being from the big city, she was more than a little reluctant about relocating.

“Justin and I were from Melbourne originally. He’s a small town boy but I’m a big city girl and in some of the regional places we looked at I just thought, ‘I’ll suffocate here’,” she laughs.

“But Hobart had that nice mix. It’s a city but it’s not too big and there was just an opportunity to stand out here. At that time there wasn’t that much going on in our industry here.”

Although it initially proved a little difficult to find banks willing to invest in a small Tasmanian-based business and a little bit of shameless ‘weaseling’ was required, the moment the bakery doors were opened Jackman and McRoss began garnering notice.

Features in food magazines quickly followed, helping their reputation to grow even more, and allow the trio to open a second store in New Town just six months later while a third central city store followed six years ago.

Business is booming so it comes as no surprise that the central kitchen, located at the Battery Point bakery, runs nearly 24-hours-a-day, with bakers, pastry chefs, pie makers and chefs all sharing the one space.

“We supply our three bakeries and also do wholesale as well for other cafés and local supermarkets so this (amount of time) is just keeping up really,” Nerida says.

“We make the breads every night and fresh pastries every morning. The bakers start in the afternoon, then the pastry kitchen comes in and then the chefs while the pie maker works in the late afternoon.”

But the juggling act is working with products like traditional Danish pastries, apple galettes and croissants being stocked on the shelves alongside breads and their ever-popular lamb and rosemary pies.

But it’s their scallop pie which remains the biggest seller, and Nerida jokes that it has almost become a right of passage for tourists visiting Tasmania to pop into the Battery Point store and try one.

Devoid of premixes or any other shortcuts, each products in their display case is not only designed and sampled by the Jackman and McRoss staff, they’re also concocted using real ingredients before hitting the shelf in generous portion sizes shortly afterwards.

“We invent our own products, especially the savoury products, that’s our strength really. But the inspiration for our products is a bit of a collective effort really, everyone comes with input and we trial them,” Nerida says.

“At the moment pies are our bestsellers. I think it’s because we make everything from scratch and we use real butter and real ingredients and proper lamb and veggies and we cook it up like a stew.

“We also change our lunch menu with the seasons; we have a look at what is in season and everyone has a bit of a tamper with them. We then talk about them and whether we think that works or not.”

High on popularity and low on fuss, many of the ideas behind Jackman and McRoss as a business were formulated by the founding trio while lying under a tree and out of their enthusiasm for food rather than from a keen eye for what would be successful, but successful they have become nonetheless.

The food scene has begun to boom in Tasmania in recent years, but Jackman and McRoss have managed to remain ahead of their competition by embracing the challenges it brings rather than reacting to it.

“I think competition is good. At first it was like, ‘Ooh! What’s going on?’ But, we’ve been doing this for 15 years and we’ve got a fair chunk of the market but competition is good because it keeps us honest and aware,” Nerida says.

“It makes us say ‘Ok, these are our weaknesses and this is where they’re better than us’, and it keeps pushing the food industry on. There’s a lot of interesting things happening down here in the food and baking industry, and competition benefits everyone.”

Tragically Chris Jackman passed away in June 2012, but the ideas and plans he, Justin and Nerida had discussed for the business are still continuing to slowly move forward. Next up is the refurbishment of the Battery Point bakery, and plans are already underway, with the assistance of an architect, to help with the flow of customers within the store and to ‘put some love back in to it’.

Being located in a heritage-listed building has meant Justin, Nerida and Chris have had to work their way around some difficult restrictions but Nerida says they have no regrets and the building helped to shape Jackman and Mcross both in its style and as a business.

“The Battery Point building was built in the 1800s and that has absolutely had an influence on the appearance of the store,” Nerida says.

“Because of the way we are, and the way that Chris was, we were always going to pick an older building; it’s just part of our style. But older buildings come with their pitfalls as we’ve found out over the years when you lean too hard on a wall and it crumbles.

“We’ve got Chris in mind with a lot of these plans because we did talk to him about them, so we’re now just going to get some of that stuff into action.”

All in all it’s not a bad outcome for a trio of food lovers who would act on their ideas simply because they believed they were good.

“We never thought we were creating a chain business when we first started Jackman and McRoss, we just thought we could do everything when we were younger. We were just like ‘yeah yeah we’ll do it’ but I don’t think we thought about it at all,” Nerida laughs.

“I know we’d make funny little decisions sitting together under a tree without consulting accountants or anyone like that.

“But we just had this belief … and we just did it.”

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