Staples and Necessities
From the early days of baking bread in a wood-fired oven in his garage to experimenting with sourdough made from kangaroo grass seeds, James Partington’s passion for baking is constantly changing and evolving.
James Partington from Staple Bread & Necessities is not your average baker.
Just a few short years ago he was toiling away at a demanding career in marketing when the unexpected happened, and he had to undergo major heart surgery.
During the recuperation period that followed, James was told to get his shoulders and chest moving while he recovered, and bread making was the perfect answer for the passionate foodie.
It’s perhaps not the most traditional introduction to the baking industry, but James’s interest was piqued nonetheless. He began to study and take baking courses, including one with US baker Jeffrey Hamelman, the esteemed author of Bread.
“Baking bread is a process that teaches patience, technique, strength and has a scientific component to it,” James said.
“It’s different every time you bake. It brings people together and, from my experience, builds community. What an honour!”
As his passion for bread and baking deepened, James decided it was time to jump in with both feet and four years ago invested in a wood-fired oven, setting up shop in his garage each Saturday. From 9am until 2pm, he would labour away and, through this dedication and the superior sourdoughs he was creating, he built up a loyal clientele who still walk through the doors of his Seaworth store for their daily bread.
Word swiftly began to spread and James found himself ingrained in Sydney’s artisanal baking community, which found him spending untold hours each weekend making bread in an attempt to keep up with customer demand.
Eventually, he realised, a decision had to be made.
“As the business grew I realised this was something I had to do longer term,” James said.
“After attending and being part of events like BreadEd, GrAiNZ, Grain gathering and generally hanging out with exceptional bakers my vision started to become real. Through their support and skill sharing it gave me the confidence to push myself.
“Having a life-threatening experience like open heart surgery also helped. I know how precious and short life can be, so for me it’s about getting on with it. I’m extremely tenacious and single-minded when it comes to certain things and I simply won’t give up if I believe in it.”
James decided it was time to officially set up shop, so he began the hunt for the perfect premises, eventually finding it in Seaforth on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. He set to work stocking his shelves with a simple but well thought-out product range, and relied solely on word of mouth for marketing. It worked and, in the four years since Staple Bread & Necessities first opened its doors, the business has grown from a one-man-show to a team of eight people including front of house.
“I found my place in Seaforth after missing out on probably four other properties. But once I saw the shop here, I knew it was the one—slap bang in the middle of community, off the beaten track and with plenty of parking,” James said.
“When it first opened it was just me. I stood there in front of 50 loaves on the shelf and with a few trays of croissants.
I would bake, sell, and then prep for the next day by standing in the cool room rolling croissants for hours.
“I was broken in the first few months. I did zero marketing of the place other than give a few loaves of bread to the neighbours and let people talk about me. But I’ve always said if your product is good enough people will find you—and they have.”
Despite Staple Bread & Necessities’ popularity, James has kept the product range deliberately small, choosing to focus on making classic bread and pastries really well or with a simple twist to the recipe. There is only one requirement: everything that lines the shelves must have some form of wild fermentation, even the pastries, and be made using flours and grains that are gentle on both the environment and the gut.
“I decided on a small range for many reasons. Firstly to maintain exacting standards we set ourselves and maintain focus. Secondly, building loyalty and a product that customers come back for is super important. Lastly I hate food waste. The more products you have, the more likely you are to have something left at the end of the day,” James said.
“The team is always asking to add new products, to which I respond ‘does it answer our remit? Is it based on a classic? And then which product are we taking off the counter to make room for it?’ Suddenly we have to really think about the merits of making it.”
Looking to the future, exciting changes are on the horizon for James and the Staple Bread & Necessities team, starting with an expansion of the bakery into the shop next door. Not only will this extra room allow the staff more breathing space for production, but will also be an area where classes can be held for the public.
A new mill also has James anticipating a huge change up in everything Staple Bread & Necessities produces.
“I’ve purchased a new American Stone Mill, which is set to arrive in the first quarter. This will change everything about our breads and how we work and, more importantly, our relationships with customers and farmers. Fresh milled flour is like no other,” James said.
“[And with the added space] customers will be able to surround themselves in our space asking questions about what we’re doing and sharing their ideas. How good is that!”