As australian bakers work to cement their position in populated markets, the spaces in which they are operating are becoming increasingly innovative. Australian Baking Business takes a look at six booming enterprises based in weird and wonderful locations.
IN A CONVENT
Breads and cakes baked at Melbourne’s Convent Bakery have a secret ingredient: history. the bakery is located in the former home of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and uses two scotch ovens the nuns installed back in 1901.
the convent itself is a little more than 5km west of the CBd on a meandering curve of the Yarra River. While the Sisters of Good Shepherd haven’t used the site since 1975, the eight-building site still attract tourists and visitors who come to admire the architecture and points of historical interest.
the convent complex is located on 7ha and, because of its distance from the CBdand proximity to both a river and a farm, has a sense of serene and calm unusual in a place so close to a major city centre.
throughout the years, the different precincts within the convent site have been transformed into a complete cultural centre, with spaces dedicated to art exhibitions, businesses, performance studios and even a radio station.
Not surprisingly, the bakery attracts a lot of members from Melbourne’s cultural community who have studios at the convent and who spend time relaxing, thinking and creating in the bakery’s leafy outdoor sitting area.
“People, of course, are amazed by the overall environment here,” the bakery’s manager daniela Martino says.
“It’s very quiet, there is lots of green and they can relax. they’re still in the city, but in a very different environment to a typical city café, which is usually just the street.”
“It’s a stress-free environment.”
however, with the unique location comes a few challenges. While the bakery attracts a lot of one-off visitors and tourists, there are few passers-by.
“the bakery is located in the city, but at the same time, it’s tucked away and isolated,” daniela says.
“People have to know we are here, because there are no other retail outlets close by to draw them in. We’re not in a position where people just walk by and say, ‘ah! Why don’t we stop here?’.”
Location aside, the Convent Bakery has a reputation for roasting its own Fairtrade coffee beans, which are ground and brewed in store and sold on the internet; and is particularly well known for its sourdough bread, which comes in unique varieties and daily specials like beetroot loaf and pumpkin loaf. the bakery also uses organic flour and no preservatives. What’s more, everything is made by hand, with only a couple of machine mixers on site.
their sourdough is so famous, daniela says, because the bakery’s ovens give all their breads flavours and qualities that are completely different to most commercial loaves. the wood fire from the ovens gives the dough a distinctive taste and, because loaves cook slowly, a fuller flavour develops.
Several times a month the bakery also hosts bread making nights: one for beginners and one for mastering the art of gluten-free baking. Students are taught how to make pizza, bread, calzone and all sorts of bakery goods using traditional methods and techniques.
the difference of course, is that when students go home they don’t have a turn-of-the-century oven to give their home baking that Convent Bakery flavour.
“that’s why they keep coming back into the shop,” daniela says with a smile.
IN A TRUCK
HAVE YOUR CAKE AND GET IT DELIVERED TOO
Like all good superheroes, Vicki dunn leads a dual life. during the day she works full-time as a law clerk in adelaide, but after hours, she heads home to bake cupcakes for her mobile business Cupcakes Please.
“I love baking cupcakes, so I always find the time to do it,” Vicki explains.
“I can bake eight dozen cupcakes at a time in my commercial oven and I am very good at using my time efficiently.”
the commercial oven was just one big investment Vicki and her husband andrew made in their business. another of course, was their truck: a compact, spotty, bright yellow cube they use to distribute Vicki’s cupcakes far and wide.
the vehicle – which was adelaide’s first cupcake truck – allows them to keep their overheads down. It’s also flexible, both with locations and working hours, which suits Vicki. and if sales are slow, they can simply shut up shop and move on to somewhere else.
“Finding the right location is the key to a successful mobile vendor. however, it can be challenging, particularly if we can’t find a vacant car park,” Vicki says.
“Working out of a truck enables us to take our shop anywhere and we get to attend events like adelaide’s Fork on the Road food truck festival. It’s also available for private functions.”
along with their truck, Vicki and andrew have also set up an online ordering system for their cupcakes, which gives businesses or individuals an easy portal for placing large orders: a few clicks and attaching a logo is all it takes. Online sales are particularly useful during the summer months, when hot weather reduces demand for on-the-street sales, but there are still plenty of events and parties to cater.
“the biggest challenge is the weather. Our truck is refrigerated, but we don’t have the fridge running when the truck is parked so it can get very hot. as a result we don’t take the truck out as often in summer and instead rely more on online sales,” Vickie says.
the truck serves up Vicki’s cupcakes in a range of flavours including sticky date, banana, and Cherrylicious – andrew’s personal favourite which, “Really does taste like a Cherry Ripe”.
there are also more traditional flavours on offer like chocolate, vanilla and tangy lemon. Whatever the flavour, all cupcakes have to pass one simple test: they have to meet with Vicki’s approval.
“I don’t bake anything that I personally don’t like the taste of,” she says. Instead, the menu is a thoughtful and personal reflection of Vicki’s tastes. there are no secret ingredients or unique techniques: she simply uses her grandmother’s recipe for the cakes and a butter cream alternative for her icing.
after completing a baking course a few years ago, Vicki also decorates cakes to exacting standards. her goal is to make cupcakes that taste better than they look, which often means black patty pans and a generous serving of flavoured and coloured frosting.
“after all,” Vicki says, “you can never have too much frosting.”
For the time being, Vicki and andrew are running Cupcakes Please part-time from home, delivering orders and popping up around adelaide. Vicki says she is looking forward to the day when she can leave her dual life and dedicate herself to the business full time. Until then however, both are focusing on building their business slowly and baking late into the night.
IN A BANK
CHANGING IT UP
When you think of ways to best use a former bank building, transforming it into a bakery is not normally what comes to mind. however this is exactly what the folk at Mooroopna Bakery have done.
established on the site of a former Commonwealth Bank in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley, owner Bart honig and his father jumped at the chance to refurbish the building and transform it into their dream bakery when the opportunity arose nearly nine years ago.
“the farmer who owned the property lived up the road from my parents and it had been sitting empty for two-and-a-half years. So we asked him if we could put a bakery in it,” Bart says.
the owner agreed, on the proviso Bart and his parents did all the renovation work.
“everything had to be changed. there was no hot water and there wasn’t a lot of three-phase power, so a lot went into refurbishing it,” he says.
“It’s not like we just walked in to the building and started baking!”
When Bart first took over the building almost every aspect of its former life was still in place, barring the money and computers. the counters, carpeting, safe room, signage and even atM had all been left behind.
Nonetheless, this was a less than ideal workspace for a bakery so Bart set to work. the counters were removed, the rooms gutted and tiled and even the ceiling was smoothed over to make it more appropriate for its new vocation.
“Out the front we’ve got tables and chairs and umbrellas and we painted the inside. It’s also actually two shops now; one shop is just the eating area where the walls have been sandblasted back to the original brick and the other one is the business side of the shop with the counters and serving area,” Bart says.
“But the atM is still in the front of the shop.”
despite the drastic renovations however, some of the bakery’s former life continues to live on within the Mooroopna community.
“We didn’t really keep it looking like a bank, but most people in the town just call us the Commonwealth Bakery or the Commonwealth Bank,” Bart says.
IN A SCHOOL
LEARNING THE ROPES
For one hour a day, up to five days a week, a bakery shop front opens its doors at hamilton taFe, in New South Wales.
While the space became a retail outlet after a renovation in 2009, baking head teacher Lo de Winter says hamilton taFe has operated a bakery in an unofficial capacity for years.
“I started here eight years ago and the bakery has always been here. But we never had a specific shop for it. Rather, we used to sell the products out of the doorway of the bakery,” he says.
“It’s used as part of our Certificate III course in baking, which has a large practical component. throughout the course there are always more products made than students are willing to take home, so the logical decision was made to sell excess products through a shop front.”
Located in a locker-lined hallway, the bakery’s appearance is very much congruent with its educational surroundings. Nevertheless it remains a stalwart favourite among the other students on campus.
“Our core business is education so we don’t actively promote the shop. But we do have customers who aren’t students come to the shop to purchase baked products,” Lo says.
“the range we deliver is obviously in line with what we are teaching. there is quite a large range of products the students make including rock cakes, cupcakes, white bread, wholemeal bread, danishes, gateaux and tortes. this is generally reflective of industry demands.”
With an on-campus restaurant also run on a first-come-first-serve basis, Lo says many of the bakery’s consumers are aware the availability of products can’t be guaranteed.
“the taFe academic calendar goes across two semesters each year and we deliver the Certificate III retail baking course across five semesters. But we deliver the same course each semester, each year, so the same products are there every time to provide consistency,” Lo explains.
“there is some disappointment when we run out of products early on, but at the end of the day, our core business is education and our customers definitely respect that.”
IN A CARAVAN
HUNGARY FOR CHIMNEY CAKES
a little more than four years ago and 15,000km away, Csaba egri and his wife Monika worked in the It industry in hungary. Csaba was an engineer, while Monika worked in distribution – both were successful, but restless.
“Being hungarian, everything culinary is somehow in our veins,” Csaba explains.
the pair had come from families with similar attitudes towards, “excellent real quality food,” as Csaba says. Both had watched and helped their grandmothers in the kitchen, learning the right way to knead dough and combine ingredients. their grandmothers, in turn, taught them the “ancient tricks” of hungarian baking and cooking, including lessons on how to make a Chimney Cake; a cylindrical pastry so famous it is often considered emblematic not only of hungarian cuisine, but also of hungary itself.
after moving to australia at the end of 2009, both Csaba and Monika noticed a shortage of bakeries that reminded them of europe – the kind of bakeries whose smells and flavours entice you to stay, whether you want to buy something or not. this realisation sparked a new ambition in the former It professionals: to leave their careers and bring the hungarian food experience to australia.
Csaba and Monika now own Bodri’s Chimney Cake Station, a food caravan in adelaide that combines hungary’s most famous pastry with the mobility and freedom of a food truck. What’s more, their caravan isn’t just a shopfront, but a micro-bakery, where everything is prepared and baked on site.
there are a lot of practical challenges of working in such a small space. Bakeries need room to house equipment, supplies and tools. Bakeries also need power – a lot of it – and enough room for extras like barista equipment, soft drinks and milk.
however, there are also advantages. Mobility means Bodri’s can distribute products more widely than in a fixed bakery. and in summer, they can even take their cakes to the beach.
Csaba and Monika’s eventual goal is to build a quality brand throughout australia and they figure if they develop a reputation for excellence, then the customers will follow and the business will grow.
to this end, they’ve added a selection of savoury snacks to their product line and are working on developing other high quality, european, freshly baked products that will be available for order through their website for delivery nationwide.
Both are serious, not only about their Chimney Cakes – whose every component, from the yeast dough to the thin caramel coating, is made from scratch – but also about general baking, teas, coffee and hot chocolate, which are all carefully sourced.
“We believe quality products and services are the key for success,” Csaba says.
“this is why we will not compromise, ever. Our whole concept is based on this golden rule.”
With this in mind, it’s no surprise Bodri’s slogan – “we bake the difference” – is becoming increasingly recognised around adelaide.
IN A DELI
AN UNUSUAL COMBINATION
tucked away in the Melbourne suburb of Kensington is the Rusty Fox; a deli/foodstore that is also home to scrumptious homemade baked goods.
Owned and run by Rebecca Creighton, her partner Kim Scott and Kim’s sister Jenny Galea, inspiration for the unique business concept hit the trio after the only deli in the area closed down.
“there was a gap in the local market for a multifaceted food business. You used to have to go to many different places around the area to get your smallgoods, so we thought, “hey, let’s open a deli/foodstore business,” she says.
“We wanted people to be able to come in and grab their cheese and jams, have something to eat and then head off. If we didn’t open this business, someone else would have.”
With this concept in mind, the trained pastry chef also seized the opportunity to bake good old-fashioned products to sell alongside the more traditional deli and hot meal selection.
as a result cakes, pastries, fruit tarts and biscuits – all of which are baked on the premises on a daily basis – regularly share cabinet space with savoury deli items like salami, sausages, smoked salmon and soups, while jams and sauces line the walls.
“Because my background is as a pastry chef I have a lot of recipes, so I just rotate them around every week. there’s never a shortage of cakes, tarts and biscuits,” Rebecca explains.