Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of career burnout, Adelaide newcomer The Sugar Man has hit the sweet spot for owner Alex Crawford, who was thrilled to finally open his own retail space after years of the wholesale grind.
Alex, a self-taught pastry chef and chocolatier, started out in 2013 specialising in macarons, which he supplied wholesale to businesses in Adelaide. Unfortunately, the pressure of keeping a wholesale business afloat—Alex says he was “young and naïve”—for two years ended in career burnout.
This turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise, as Alex and his fiancée—also named Alex—took some time off to explore Italy. It was here that Alex discovered a love for chocolate and Italian pastry that formed the foundations of The Sugar Man.
“I just fell in love with what they were doing,” he says. “From maritozzis in Rome to sfogliatelle in Naples, cantucci biscuits in Tuscany, brioche buns filled with gelato… it was an incredible time.”
The Italian appreciation of fresh, local and seasonal produce struck a chord too, and now one of the underpinning missions of The Sugar Man is the use of high-quality, local and ethical ingredients in products, such as eggs from The Splendid Egg in Mount Gambier, which is a four chickens per hectare farm, Tweedvale Milk and cream from the Adelaide Hills, Lauke flour and Dairyman Barossa butter.
“The amazing produce that Italy had, and showcasing every bit of it… no one really does that in Australia,” Alex says.
“I thought, ‘Bugger it, everyone is grabbing hazelnuts and pistachios from Italy or Iran, so I’m going to release my own chocolate range and bakery range showcasing local produce.”
Prior to opening the store on Hutt Street (right across the street from his former wholesale production kitchen), Alex started selling his chocolate wholesale in bottle shops and tea shops across Adelaide, bouncing between the Adelaide Hills and shared kitchens to produce his popular blocks. In fact, it took some time to find a suitable space for The Sugar Man to call home, but it has allowed Alex to ramp up his chocolate production and upgrade from a 15 kg to a 40 kg chocolate making machine.
“To finally get my own retail space in Hutt Street is amazing. Everything will be done in the shop,” he says.
Alex’s chocolate flavours are seasonal and often inspired by nostalgia. For autumn, the offering includes:
- Hot X Bun, made with organic New South Wales Sunraysia sultanas, Riverland dry oranges and house-made sourdough hot cross buns, toasted up with jersey cattle butter from the Barossa and put through 41 per cent milk chocolate,
- Marmalade Croissant, with marmalade made from oranges grown on Alex’s grandmother’s 65-year-old Valencia orange tree and house-made croissant pieces caramelised in Dairyman butter for an added crunch,
- Flame Roasted Macadamia, made from Byron Bay macadamias which are roasted over fire with Olsson’s Red Gum Smoked Salt and mixed into 35 per cent caramelised white chocolate,
- Peanut Butter Caramel, with house-made Tweedvale Milk cream caramel and peanuts from Kingaroy and
- Fairy Bread, made from house-made sourdough bread caramelised in Dairyman butter and put in 35 per cent white chocolate.
Upon his return from Italy and with a newfound passion for chocolate, Alex devoured videos and tutorials on chocolate, teaching himself and also “bugging the crap out of” his good friend and mentor, Adriano Zumbo, with questions.
“He taught me a lot about the chocolate making process and I just fell in love with it,” Alex says.
“I found my sweet spot and then released them as a retail item.”
Happily, for locals, Alex will continue producing pastries too.
“One of my loves is pastry—so on the Saturday mornings only, for the time being—we’ll see how it goes—we’ll be doing a selection,” he says.
The pastry selection may include items like a raspberry pie baked croissant with local Uraidla raspberries and homemade custard, and Maritozzi doughnuts, which are brioche doughnuts, split down the middle and filled with Adelaide Hills dairy—their take on their trip to Italy. However, the menu will be changing based on what’s in season and locally available. And everything is made fresh daily, with nothing carried over to sell the next day.
“I hate refrigeration cabinets,” Alex explains. “I know their function, but I just hate the look of them—they look absolutely f*cking ghastly!
“What you see in the morning is fresh from the kitchen, so what you see is what you get.”
After walking into the shop, past the glowing pink neon sign in the window, customers are greeted with a long timber table, where the range of chocolate blocks are displayed under glass domes. As well as creating a unique look, the display prevents people touching the products.
“The only people that will touch it are us. We’ll have all of them as a display, then you pick what you want and we’ll serve you,” Alex says.
With no shelves to speak of, the walls are used to display art from local artists—all with a pastry or chocolate theme.
“People can come in, look around and see the artwork, then look the artist up online and see what they have,” Alex says.
Some of the art on display includes works from Alex’s fiancée, Alexandra, who is also the talent behind the stunning packaging on the chocolate blocks.
“She’s designed all our labels from the get-go and will forever into the future,” he says.
The Sugar Man is open 10am until 4pm Tuesday to Friday and 8am until the pastries are sold out on Saturdays, but Alex’s days will be much longer to keep up with demand.