Everyone knows the name of their local big name chain bakery, but micro-bakeries are rising in popularity. Making bread, cakes and pastries for direct retail, wholesale or food markets, they won’t be stocking the big supermarkets, but with low food miles, fresh products and the opportunity for people to shop local, these businesses are thriving in many communities.
Mehl Sourdough (SA)
This small Barossa based business was born out of the Barossa Farmers Market in 2014. Using South Australian ingredients and a sourdough culture handed down by fellow bakers, Martin Ritzmann and Beck Tucker are passionate about making true sourdough bread and contributing to the region that they love living in.
They continue to sell their crumpets and loaves (white, wholemeal with sprouted grains, light rye, spelt, seed, dark rye, fruit, and vollkorn) at the Barossa Farmers Market every Saturday, but also have an online store from which people can pre-order for pickup or local delivery.
“We launched this at the end of March this year when our markets had to close down for about six weeks and it has continued to hold momentum and prove very worthwhile,” Beck says.
“We will be starting a Wednesday bake soon, which will also look after our local cafe menus that use our bread and offer local delivery.”
Beck and Martin started Mehl after seeing a gap in the market for the quality of bread they had in Germany, and say their tiny bakery (capped at about 180 loaves and 200 crumpets for a Saturday bake) is manageable and profitable for the two of them.
“Never in our wildest dreams did we think that we would create a business that is so enjoyable and rewarding,” Beck says.
“Our Saturday mornings at the Barossa Farmers market have been an invaluable space to connect with our community, make friends, do an excellent weekly shop and swap a few loaves. It’s amazing what you can swap for a few loaves of bread!
“We really love what we have created together and both bring different talents to our small business and couldn’t do it without each other.”
Apiece Sourdough Bakery (TAS)
With a hospitality background spanning 26 years, Ian Lowe had been everything from a dishwasher in fast food to head chef in high-end New York City restaurants before a stint at Baker D Chirico over a decade ago set him on the bakery path.
Ian opened Apiece in 2013 in a council housing neighbourhood, in a space that had previously housed four failed bakeries.
“I grew up in suburban, impersonal cities in the US, where everything is a corporate chain,” Ian says.
“As a kid I craved something more authentically ‘human,’ where you see signs of the person making it. As a result, I developed a life-long obsession with old-world bread and pastries, particularly French.”
Apiece is primarily a wholesale and farmers market based operation, although direct order makes up a small portion of the business. In production from Wednesday through Saturday, the bakery transforms approximately 300kg of flour/grain per week into a range of breads and breakfast pastries (with a rule of only making products they really love).
Ian says that the value of a micro-bakery lies in product diversity and quality, which can be compromised in larger outfits.
“At scale, consistency often overrides quality as an important product criteria, and this intuitively makes sense,” he says.
“We are particularly lucky, because Launceston’s farmer’s market is probably the best in Australia. Our average turnover there is more than any other market baker I know of in Australia.
“Our regulars are fiercely loyal, and turn out rain or shine, hot or cold. They’re also an educated, worldly lot, and completely embrace what we do.”
Slow Grain (VIC)
Tim from Slow Grain in Epping, Victoria started his micro-bakery early this year with the purchase of a Rofco oven.
“I wasn’t happy with the bread I was making at work at the time,” Tim says.
“I wanted my family to have real bread with no additives so began baking sourdough at home with the Dutch oven method.
“All our bread is slow-fermented sourdough made using organic flours, water and salt. I like to use stoneground flours for added flavour and nutrition. My wife also makes sourdough choc-chip cookies with the sourdough discard.”
After getting everything set up, Tim and his wife Elisha attended two markets in March before COVID-19 restrictions shut markets down. They then decided to offer home delivery with online orders, using social media to reach people.
“I have always been a baker. My parents own a bakery in a small country town,” says Tim.
“I did my apprenticeship there and travelled to Melbourne to do training at William Angliss. I eventually wanted to get out and do my own thing and moved to Melbourne with my wife and two young boys, to work in sourdough bakeries.”
Tim says that owning a micro-bakery offers benefits to product quality with small batch production, as well as the personal benefits of better time management and more work-life balance.
Currently, Slow Grain does home deliveries twice a week, and once COVID-19 restrictions have eased will be back to markets on Sundays and Mondays.
Artisan Crust (VIC)
Artisan Crust in Cockatoo, Victoria began with a curiosity for all things culinary and found its ultimate expression in the beauty of burnished baguettes, the intrigue of laminated pastries and the fascination of fermentation and sourdough complexity.
Owners Scott and Cath Megee began Artisan Crust renting a kitchen space to produce for a local weekend market, while working full time.
“After three years our little venture needed solid walls and a more permanent structure to house its hopes and dreams,” Scott says.
“The perfect solution was found nestled quietly and unobtrusively upon a ridge in Cockatoo. An aged and weathered timber clad sawmill shed sits there amongst the gums and its internal space has now been transformed into a polished bakery.”
Eight years on, (pre-COVID) Artisan Crust is a pop up Boulangerie and Patisserie appearing at various markets in the Hills, and wholesaling to local cafes and several other markets. They also run a bake school on the fourth weekend of the month where they teach classes on bread basics, sourdough and croissants and Danishes.
Currently, with COVID restrictions and with the closure of markets they are running a fortnightly market style bake from their production site with a pre-order and pickup system.
Scott says the benefits of a micro-bakery are many.
“We have multiple income streams which means that we are not solely dependent on our business,” he says.
“This means that it is not all consuming and has afforded a better life balance.”
The dual nature of the business has also enabled Scott to continue with his passion for teaching people and instilling confidence in their ability to produce quality products in their own home – and then managing the short intensive bursts of bread and pastry production for wholesale and markets.
“Our focus and heart has always been for our local community and the model of our business has enabled us to have a strong community presence and connection with our customers,” Scott says.
“Our story is one that is currently unfolding and evolving in ways we never imagined and we are finding delight in the possibility of it all!”
Artisan Crust currently produces for wholesale customers every Saturday and Sunday and for markets the first, second and third weekend of the month where they produce approximately 600 bread items and 700 pastry items per market.
Silver Creek Sourdough (VIC)
Louise Ritchie of Silver Creek Sourdough in Beechworth, Victoria started baking in 2001 with a premix packer in a bread machine, and was hooked. Transitioning to sourdough in 2011 when her family were diagnosed as gluten intolerant, Louise started Silver Creek Sourdough in 2014 and began to feed her community.
“I worked in hospitality, administration and accounting whilst I put myself through various degrees searching for something I loved,” Louise says.
“I graduated with a Ba. IT (Business Systems). Everything I have ever had experience in has played a role in running my business today.”
Silver Creek sells mainly to wholesale customers comprising mostly of wholefoods and health foods shops.
“We have a little stall out the front of our bakery where we sell directly to the public,” Louise says.
“We have many regular customers who have standing weekly orders and we also have an online shop.”
Selling approximately 1400 items per week, Silver Creek is baking bread from Tuesday to Friday, and sourdough crumpets from Monday to Friday. Louise says the flexibility of a micro-bakery far outweighs that of a traditional bakery.
“During the bush fires and COVID-19 we have been able to quickly adapt and respond to customers requirements,” she says.
“The other main benefit is that we are able to dictate our hours of operation. We are able to have our weekends with our families and can pick our kids up after school.”
Overall though, she says the best part of having a micro-bakery is being able to know her customers.