Getting all fired up

Summer Kitchen Bakery owners John and Marie stand in front of the woodfired oven

After taking over Summer Kitchen Bakery in the 1990s, Marie Van de Gumster and her husband John have built the bakery from a small-but-popular wholesale business into a thriving café-bakery that serves up organic, woodfired products.

When Summer Kitchen Bakery was first opened in the 1970s, it was distinctly different to its current incarnation as a popular bakery-café.
Rather, the original business model, which was solely wholesale, operated just three days each week to produce sourdough loaves in a time when they weren’t considered mainstream.

Current Summer Kitchen Bakery owner Marie Van de Gumster, who purchased the business with her husband, John, in 1997, said those first sourdough loaves were made on the previous bakery owner’s kitchen table before heading out the door to be sold at Salamanca Market in Hobart.

Pictured are two male staff working at a bench. They're both wearing white t-shirts with golden Summer Kitchen Bakery logos on the back.

Staff at work at Summer Kitchen Bakery

“I think they [the original owners] wanted to make some wholesome sort of loaves because in the ‘70s supermarket bread was really the only thing on offer,” she said.

“They eventually built a bespoke bakery as part of their property. It was called Summer Kitchen because Tim was an American, and he grew up in the warmer states where in the summer they had outdoor kitchens called Summer Kitchens.”

Marie and her husband, John, joined the Summer Kitchen Bakery team after making the move to Tasmania.

John, a self-taught baker who had grown up watching his father – who was also a baker – took over making the vegetarian pies.

Then, when the opportunity came up for John and Marie to purchase Summer Kitchen Bakery in 1997, they jumped at it.

It’s a move that Marie describes as being slightly naïve in hindsight, but one that has ultimately been rewarding.

“In those days it was a three-day-a-week operation so we just thought we were buying ourselves a job,” Marie said.

“John had grown up with his father baking, and John also baked for our family for fun. I grew up in a family where we grew all our own fruit and vegetables. I was around cooking and a lot of baking and foods. It just seemed like something we could do.”

The process, however, proved to be far from straightforward. The first challenge the couple faced was finding a new location for Summer Kitchen Bakery.

Rows of bread are lined up in wooden shelves.

Some of the bread stocked at Summer Kitchen Bakery

Marie and John eventually came across an 1890s house that had previously housed a number of businesses from a takeaway shop, to a bicycle store, and a hardware shop.

It didn’t take long for Marie and John to realise they’d struck property gold, but there was hard work ahead of them to get the building ready.

“It was pretty, but it was unloved. We could see the potential in the building. It’s on a corner, and there were apple orchards across the road from us,” Marie said.

“The former owner of the building was a builder, so he helped us transform it into a bakery.”

For the next 15 years Summer Kitchen Bakery remained as a popular wholesale mainstay, but Marie said it had always been in the back of her head that a retail outlet would work well in the space.

Rather than leap into the transition though, Marie said she and John instead decided to move slowly. They first became accustomed to the space they were working in before deciding what renovations needed to be done to transform it into their ideal kitchen.

It’s a move Marie describes as not only making sense but also being thoroughly enjoyable.

“We’ve enjoyed knowing what we want to do with the space and just doing it gradually. Because when you know exactly how it needs to be, then it just works a lot better than building everything first and then using that space,” she said.

“Knowing what you need to do, or what you need to do in the space has been very helpful. It’s been slow going, but in a good way.

”One major element of the renovation was the inclusion of a woodfired oven, which has since become an iconic feature of the bakery.

Marie said the decision to include the oven was thanks in part to the re-emergence in the popularity of woodfired ovens in the 1990s.

“One of the pioneers of this was Alan Scott, who was an expat Tasmanian who had lived in America for many years,” Marie said.

“In the late ‘90s John went to Victoria and helped build one of these ovens and Alan was actually there. We decided then that we’d build one at Summer Kitchen. We felt making bread using just a few ingredients and baking in a woodfired oven like it had been done for thousands of years was a fantastic thing to do.”

a row of pastries and cakes are lined up on wooden trays

Summer Kitchen Bakery products

John built the oven himself in his own time with some help and guidance from Alan, and although baking in a woodfired oven does require some extra training, Marie said they have never looked back.

“John and our baker at the time  spent a few months baking in the oven and testing it before we officially started using it,” Marie said.

“When bakers first come to us now not many have had training baking in a woodfired oven, so they use an electric oven and then after a few months once they’re familiar with our products we transition them over.”

By 2012 Marie and John decided they were ready to add on a retail channel to Summer Kitchen Bakery. The wholesale side of the business had already been slowly growing, and by the time the café opened onsite Summer Kitchen Bakery was operating six-days-a-week. A few years later this was again extended to seven days.

These days Marie and John are continuing to focus on producing a high quality range of organic goods made with local ingredients.

In the cabinet you’ll find a range of sourdough loaves stocked alongside eight different varieties of vegetarian pies and rolls, meat pies and sausage rolls that are all made with certified organic local beef, and sandwiches made with house-made bread and flat breads.

“We also have our range of savoury and sweet viennoiserie that contain locally grown fruit and berries,” Marie said.

“We go back to the same growers each year to get our cherries or our blackberries. It provides a real rhythm to the year doing that. We so grow some if it ourselves too. For instance we’ve got a big bed of silverbeet in at the moment for the hunter pies.”

With almost 30 years in business behind them, Marie said one of the most important things she and John have learned is to simply back yourself, especially when you’re doing something different.

“If you have a passion for an idea, even if everyone disagrees, back yourself and follow it. When we first started wood-fired sourdough was very niche. It was not mainstream at all,” she said.

“You have to love and believe in what you do.”

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