Wild Rye’s continues its rise to the top

Wild Rye’s continues its rise to the top

Known for its artisanal sourdoughs and its recent use of wild grains, Wild Rye’s Baking Co. in Pambula, New South Wales, has been going from strength to strength since opening more than 15 years ago. Baking Business spoke with one of the owners, Matt Crossley, to get an insight into the running of the place. Matt also had some words to say about how Wild Rye’s has introduced native grains into some of their special menu items and some advice for other bakers who are looking to do the same.

Todd Wiebe and his wife started Wild Rye’s Baking Co. in 2005, taking over from a classic bakery of its time that had a poor reputation, one that didn’t really stray from the classic white bread and rolls. They stepped into the place and flipped it on its head, putting out offerings that the customers hadn’t really seen before. Although these days it’s common for bakeries around the country to stock artisanal sourdoughs, when Wild Rye’s Baking Co. started, artisanal loaves were nowhere near as prevalent as they are now.

The name of the business, in addition to being a pun on the rising that bread does in the oven, was chosen to reflect the bakery’s commitment to wild ingredients and strong cultures, says Matt Crossley, one of the owners.

“Wild was for the wild yeast we use instead of the commercial yeast. Making sure that people understood that our culture was used in every bread,” he says.

The change from the old bakery’s stock of simply classic white bread to more artisanal offerings was initially a shock for regular customers.

“Nothing like that was in the area. To be honest, at that stage, nothing like that was in Australia. It wasn’t so much of a trend yet. A truckie came in [after they first opened] and said, ‘Oh I’ll just grab a roll, I just want a plain white roll, mate’,” Matt recounts.

The truckie wasn’t interested in trying the sourdough, but Todd persuaded him to give it a go by offering it for free.

“He’s one of our best customers to this day,” Matt laughs.

“After the word got out that we were pretty unique, there definitely wasn’t another like us for miles around back then, a lot of people came around pretty quickly, it started to make sense to them.”

Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength, expanding its customer base and becoming more and more well known for delivering quality artisanal products. This success has allowed the business to expand from its original Pambula location to a second location in Cann River, as well as a roastery at the original location and a warehouse.

“We’ve had massive growth over the 19 years [we’ve been open], as well as increasing demand. Wholesale has been quite incredible—which isn’t a bad thing at all!” Matt says.

This was upset a little bit by the onset of COVID, which reduced the bakery’s staff by more than 15 people and shut business down for a while, especially as the lockdowns happened shortly after Wild Rye’s purchased their factory in New South Wales.

“We were travelling back and forth over borders and trying to get permits in the night time. It felt like we were smuggling things across the border!” Matt laughs.

“I’m very glad that we’ve come through it now.”

And come through it they have, very successfully. Wild Rye’s still has great demand for their artisanal products and is experiencing a lot of growth.

Something else that Wild Rye’s has been gaining a name for lately is its use of native grains in some of its loaves. Matt says that getting involved with native grains happened serendipitously.

Down the road from the bakery is Black Duck Foods, which is doing work to reintroduce native ingredients to the market, and the two struck up a partnership after some of the team from Black Duck became coffee regulars at Wild Rye’s.

“The guys from Black Duck Foods were coming in and getting their morning coffees. We started talking—we were getting the grains tested and were coming back with some great numbers. There were gluten protein proportions that we’d never heard of!” says Matt.

“You can typically buy flour in a large commercial setting and see a 13 per cent gluten level, which has been adulterated, and [Black Duck] were getting numbers like 22 per cent, which is something we couldn’t really fathom.”

And so began Wild Rye’s foray into using native grains in their baking.

He says, “We’ve done some breads for different functions. Using a kangaroo grass mix. We also did a black wattleseed and spear grass mix as well. The flavour is amazing, it’s incredible.”

The loyal customer base at Wild Rye’s has also been very receptive to their range of loaves made with native grains.

“The demand for the products through the shop is huge. People are talking about it. They send messages on Instagram asking, ‘Can you do this again?’ People are wanting to experiment, to try different experiences—it’s huge,” Matt says.

For those looking to follow down Wild Rye’s path when it comes to native grains, Matt has one simple work of advice: experiment.

“It’s one of those things where you have to retrain on how it works, because it’s an experiment. [The grain] has a totally different feeling in your hand, it reacts to the water differently. Every season is different too. You need to spend some time with it, because everything you’ve learned goes out the window. It’s quite unique,” Matt says.

Another piece of advice from Matt for those looking to get into native grains is to speak to the First Nations people who are doing the hard work in the cultivation of the grains and try to source directly from them.

“You need to start getting involved with the native people that had this land, start branching out—talk to the elders of your town. They’ve been doing this for centuries, yet we’re only finding out about it now,” he says.

“Places like Black Duck Foods are only going to get bigger, start developing more, taking steps towards going commercial.”

As Wild Rye’s continues its journey crafting artisanal sourdoughs to send to the market, as well as experimenting with native grains and working with Black Duck Foods to bring these products to the market, the business is growing and evolving.

COVID brought with it a reality check that encourages Matt and Todd and the other business partners to take a step back and focus on what was at the heart of the business: unique and interesting bread.

“We’re thinking the shopfront of Wild Rye’s is where it’s at. We’re changing our hours at the bakers—trying to change to a more family friendly roster. Bakers traditionally have very long hours and a lot of our staff are currently starting families,” Matt says.

“The future of Wild Rye’s is taking a step back in terms of wholesale. We’re going to step our wholesale back a little bit. It’s a bit daunting, but it’s good.”

As the wholesale side of things is stepping back, Matt says, the team at Wild Rye’s is aiming to move back to working on their specials again and focussing on putting out great products that customers will love.

“We want to go back to putting a special loaf out—the joy of a few bakers and pastry chefs getting together and developing something and putting something special out on the menu more regularly rather than doing the commercial wholesale side of things,” he says.

“We don’t want to be a factory; we still want to produce unique artisan bread. We want to go back to our original philosophy, trying to make our products unique.”

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