the birth of a bakery
about this book
before you begin
savoury pastries & pies
basics & techniques
pies & sausage rolls
The birth of a bakery
Bourke Street Bakery evolved in a beaten-up old car. Two friends talking about their dreams and aspirations makes for a long drive. David and I spent six months driving around Sydney looking for the perfect site. Somewhere between hours on the road punctuated by ‘eating research breaks’, we began testing recipes. We discovered we had similar ideas, tastes and opinions.
Our vision of the perfect bakery was small, rustic, homely and timeless; we wanted to create a bakery people would feel comfortable in and make food that people wanted to buy every day. Most importantly, it had to appeal to the whole community. We kept the focus on the quality of ingredients rather than the aesthetic. We were both former chefs who had dabbled in bread and pastry. David had more experience in pastry and I had more in bread, so the demarcation of duties was obvious.
After many false starts, we finally found the site at 633 Bourke Street in Surry Hills, Sydney. Bourke Street Bakery is blessed with incalculable charm and character, which is only enhanced by its positioning close to the local methadone clinic and housing commission high-rise butting up against restaurants, artists and gentrified streets. It was the perfect site and we owe a debt to its previous inhabitants, Crissy and J.C., for selling their space to us and allowing us to live our dream.
Our first sale was a pan au raisin and a bear claw. It was just past 7 am on Tuesday 5 July 2004. We were not yet tired, although that would come; we just felt the fear and excitement of the unknown and the inevitable responsibility of starting a new business. As it turned out, this was the only day we could recall of that first six months. And so started the ‘big blur’.
David and I worked from 4 am to 9 pm every day. In the few hours we spent with our respective partners each week, we fought constantly. Selfishly, it seemed not to matter. Each day was better than the last, but even so it was a vicious cycle. We wanted the bakery to be a success, yet every extra sale placed a strain to produce more. We were too paranoid to let just anyone make the product and were also distrustful of our success. We were scared to put on more staff and pay wages, so we raged ahead with what seemed to be a social experiment to test whether two men can happily co-exist in a bakery seventeen hours a day.
We made it through the tough times, but one year on we were running out of space and David took his pastry production elsewhere. So was born Bourke Street Bakery on Broadway. We produced and swapped bread and pastry early in the morning for about a year. Both shops were booming and we started looking for a third, bigger and more sustainable, space where we could reunite our products. This happened in Alexandria; bread and pastry happily co-existed for two years. Then, predictably, arguments started to occur over the mixer, scales and bench. Space in the coolroom was hot property and rather than descend into some sort of primordial chaos, we realised it was once again time for pastry to leave. In the summer of 2008, pastry marched out to Marrickville. The valuable extra space allowed us to extend our range.
The growth of Bourke Street Bakery has been totally organic. We had no grand plan on that first day. We took our time. We did it well. We stayed true to our product. We have never had marketing or PR people involved. We have always felt that we needed to turn each person who walks through the door into a PR machine. And to do that, we make sure the product is damn good. Simple really.
When we go to round up the people who helped us in those first days, weeks and months, it’s the usual suspects of family and friends who deserve the most thanks. The success of Bourke Street Bakery and the culmination of all our wonderful recipes in this book would not have been possible without our chef friends who worked the odd day, Dave’s brother who did the carpentry work, my sister who chose our infamous brown exterior, our wives who served and washed and smiled at us like we were lost, our good friend Dan, who offered counsel and coffee in equal measures. My in-laws, who probably represented half the takings on any given day, and also my parents, who made the shelves and cushions for the shop, and would have made anything really, I only had to ask.
And, most importantly, a big thank you to all of our customers who continue to support us at Bourke Street and beyond.