When Sonoma Bakery fired up the ovens for a test run last week the comforting smell of baking bread literally stopped people in the street.
The iconic Sydney bakery will open on Lonsdale Street in Braddon on Monday August 13 and while the past few months have been a hectic blur of construction, recruitment, and detail, all it took was the smell of one golden loaf to make everyone slow down.
Sonoma’s head of bakery operations Jordan Miller has been baking since he was a teenager, first with a retail bakery in a suburban shopping centre, and Sonoma since 2001, but he still gets great pleasure from seeing the finished product, and that smell.
“The last three weeks I've been here on site, it's a building site not a bakery just yet, and last Thursday when we did a test run on the ovens the smell of baking bread just hit me,” he said.
“We had people stopping in the street and asking us about the bread even though we only made 50 loaves.”
The Canberra bakery is the company’s first venture outside of Sydney but they’ve been delivering here for close to six years.
“We’ve got a very loyal customer base here,” Miller said. “We know the Canberra market pretty well … and we’re only a three hour drive from the mothership.
“It is an experiment but everyone has embraced the idea.”
The bakery will also include a 40-seat cafe, doing simple breakfast and lunch plates, fresh sandwiches, pies, sausage rolls, pizzas and abundant salads, alongside generous offerings of pastries and sweets. There’ll also be a focus on doing coffee well.
Sonoma Bakery has taken over a large space on Lonsdale Street, which formerly incorporated Autolyse bakery, Repco mechanics and the Autolyse juice bar.
The fitout enables customers in the cafe to be able to see into the bakery, the large Kornfeil deck oven, which can bake 240 loaves at once, takes pride of place just metres away from your table. It’s the first of its kind in Australia and the smaller Revent deck oven is also state of the art.
Baking is, afterall, a science. Miller talks about the process involved in making a loaf of Sonoma bread. Fermentation, proving, how the environment affects every loaf they make. They’re a patient lot, each loaf takes 36 hours to make, start to finish, and it’s all still very hands on.
“On a good day we’re hand shaping almost 45,000 loaves a week in Sydney,” he says. “Despite the expansion we’ve maintained all the original methods of producing the sourdough, that’s what sets us apart.”
Miller became entangled in the Sonoma story when he started dating Sarah Connole, the daughter of Sonoma founder Kerry Connole, around the same time the family purchased a small bakery in Bellata, just outside of Moree in western NSW.
“We started dating about the same time Kerry and her brothers Andrew and Christian started heading up to Bellata to bake before bringing the bread back to Sydney on the weekends to sell at the markets.”
By 2000 the demand for their bread was so high they opened a bakery in Sydney. From the 24 square metre space in Bellata, to 5500 square metres where they are now, there are 100 bakers, baking around the clock, seven days a week.
Heading up the Canberra team is German-born Stefan Pischke who has worked with the Rockpool Group and most recently a start-up artisan bakery in Dubai.
While all the Sonoma staples will be on the menu, such as the signature loaves the Miche, the Mission, the team is looking forward to being able to experiment as well. Miller talks about ancient and heritage grains, their different tastes and textures, how they’re working more with those now.
He says the biggest challenge in moving to Canberra will be the weather. Anyone who’s ever tried any kind of simple baking at home knows how temperature and humidity can create havoc.
“You do have extremes here. What was it the other morning, -8C or something? And then in the summer I know it can get into the 40s.”
The bakery is climate controlled to try and maintain the optimal environment for baking.
“But -8! Mind you, on those mornings standing next to the oven and smelling the bread, you’re probably going to be loving life.”