When Marta Kozlowska-Rychlewicz and Przemyslaw ‘’Yaneck” Nabialek moved to Australia in 2014, one of the first things they noticed was that bread here wasn’t like the bread they grew up with in Poland. After a fruitless search, they were left with one option—to make it themselves. Now, the couple’s suburban Perth garage is home to Eco Bread, and they supply their traditional Polish loaves to 25 stores across Perth.
We often hear the stories of successful businesses starting from a living room or garage, but they’re usually tech-based—like Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, or Jeff Bezos’ Amazon. Home-based bakeries aren’t uncommon, but they tend to be more small-scale—special occasion cakes and made-to-order desserts, for example, which makes Eco Bread’s story all the more remarkable.
Prior to starting Eco Bread, neither Marta, an IT engineer by trade, nor Yanneck, a personal trainer, had any experience with baking aside from the odd loaf of sourdough they made just for fun.
“We never had any background with baking or running restaurants,” says Marta.
“We had a small catering company in Poland, but we only prepared sandwiches and salads—also at home.
“Our baking started here in Australia because we didn’t want to eat the bread with improvers and preservatives or buy bread for one dollar at Coles.
It would be easy to get defensive when they say they couldn’t find nice bread in Perth, but it’s just a matter of understanding how different bread is in Eastern European countries like Poland, Russia and Hungary.
Marta says the main difference is the density; where Australian bread is soft, light and fluffy, the 100 per cent dark rye meal bread she and Yanneck produce is extremely dense.
“You eat one slice of bread and you feel full for the rest of the day,” she says.
“Some bakers with a lot of experience think something is wrong, but this is something where we grew up.”
Especially when it comes to sourdough, Marta says the Australian loaves with all of their air pockets just don’t translate well to the Polish way of eating.
“Polish people love to eat an open sandwich, where you’ve got a slice of bread, butter, ham, cheese and some other ingredients,” she explains.
“If you’ve got a lot of holes in your slice of bread, unfortunately you can’t put butter on it.”
To give themselves that taste of home, Marta and Yanneck started making their own sourdough, sourcing recipes from family and the internet, but quickly found there was a demand for their product.
“We started baking just for ourselves, but when we started showing our products to friends, they’d say, ‘oh that’s nice, could you bake some bread for our party?’”
A year or two later, they decided to see how their dark rye sourdough would go at the Perth Polish Community Club’s Easter market.
“We just decided to bake—in our kitchen—70 loaves of bread and take it to this market,” says Marta.
“We sold everything through the Polish community in less than one hour!
“When people saw it, it was just, ‘Oh wow, this kind of bread, we can’t find it’. People would try it and grab one, two, three loaves of bread.
“We just thought it was nice that people liked it.”
Realising their venture might have legs, Marta and Yanneck started selling their bread at farmers markets, building their entire stand in one afternoon after being invited to their first one at the last minute to replace the usual baker who couldn’t make it.
“When you’re just starting something it’s very difficult, so we were still working at our other companies, trying to run a bakery and trying to introduce ourselves,” says Marta.
“When we started, we used our oven in the kitchen, and very slowly when we saw that people liked our product, we bought our first semi-commercial ovens and rented a bigger house,” she says.
“Then three years ago—June exactly—we went to the first IGA store and asked if they want to supply, because it was the closest shop from our home, and they said ‘yes’.”
From small beginnings at farmers markets and that first IGA store, Eco Bread is now supplying around 800 loaves a week to 25 stores across Perth including IGAs, Farmer Jack’s’, and the Boatshed—a luxury deli shop based in Cottesloe.
Marta laughs when she recalls how Yanneck was approached by the manager of the Boatshed bakery section to supply bread to their upmarket store, but he turned down the offer thinking it was just another farmers market.
“She said, ‘really? You don’t want to be in our market?’ and Yanneck said, ‘no, but you know, just call Marta—she’s the best person to chat about whether we want to be or not’, so she gave me a call,” she laughs.
“They stock the best products on the local market, so we’re very happy we can be a part of it.”
“Even when we tried to find something better, it was still far away from what we expected.”
After some trial and error in the early stages of the business, Marta and Yanneck discovered pretty quickly that individual orders were too complicated to be sustainable, and wholesale only was the way to go.
“When we started, we thought we could just sell to individuals, but then we realised it’s too complicated, baking at night, doing some deliveries as well, and then people wanting to collect when it’s our time for sleeping,” says Marta.
“Our day for the first three years was we’d wake up at 10pm, start baking, then packaging, and at four o’clock in the morning we’d start doing deliveries, and finish around 8am. We had some time to take showers, eat something and then at 2pm, we went bed.
“For the first three years we didn’t have any social life!”
Thankfully, Yanneck’s brother moved to Perth last year and now does deliveries for Eco Bread, allowing the couple to have a somewhat normal life again.
Despite not doing individual orders, there is an exception to the rule: Polish wedding bread. Marta takes orders for these intricate loaves from the Polish community in Perth, and even won a prize at the Perth Royal Food Awards in 2019 for them.
“When people get married in Poland it’s tradition that when you welcome your guests, you welcome them with salt and bread,” she explains.
“When we started, someone told us about the Perth Royal Food Competition and there actually was a category for artisan stencilling and scoring.
“So I said, ‘okay, we’ve got bread like, our wedding bread has usually got some flowers, roses, birds, hearts… okay, I will do this.’
“And then I came with my bread, and no one in Perth—and it was a big competition—no one baked bread like me.
“Unfortunately, they cancelled the category, so now I have no competition.
Despite the fast growth and success they have experienced, Marta and Yanneck are keen—at least for now—to keep Eco Bread small and home-based. Not wanting to have a commercial premise, they found a house that would be ideal to convert into a bakery.
“We found this beautiful house which was prepared a little bit because the previous owner had an art studio so they had water in the garage and a nice floor so it was much easier for us to establish,” says Marta.
“Because we’ve got semi-professional ovens we don’t need commercial three-phase electricity.
“If we convert to something bigger, unfortunately we can’t do this from home.”
One of the best things about working from home, Marta says, is avoiding the commute.
“We don’t have traffic on our way—when we decide to go to our bakery, we just open the door between the kitchen and the garage and jump in.
“We save a lot of time in travel!”
They would however eventually like to bring another baker on board to give them a bit more freedom, especially around holidays.
“For sure, we’d like to get someone and bake a little bit more,” says Marta.
“We’d like to have another family member, someone from Perth who will start baking bread with us so we can go on a normal break when we have holidays.
“But right now, we are small and we are happy with what we’ve got.”