Artisan bakery rises to Covid crisis challenge

Sourdough loaves are flying off the shelves downtown at Raglan Artisan Bread – and now they’re being snapped up too across the divvy, at Bin Inn Dinsdale.

The breakthrough into Hamilton comes after baker Corrina Wells mounted a post-Covid sales push to “grow the market” and futureproof the business.

The qualified chef – looking diminutive behind towering shelves of freshly baked sourdough in the shop at the far end of a retail lane off Wainui Rd – told the Chronicle this week the specialist bakery was going “really well”.

It’s just on a year now since Corrina, part of the family which formerly owned Orca Eatery & Bar, took over and centralised Jenny Carter’s successful home-based startup business.

Back then Jenny was selling 50 loaves of her authentic homemade sourdough over three days, commuting from Ruapuke to her tiny bread outlet beside Trade Aid on Bow St.  Now it’s a six-days-a-week business in which – even though it’s still mid-winter – 100 to 150 loaves per day are being baked on site in Electric Ave.

The bakery’s cornerstone product is mostly sold over the counter, along with cinnamon scrolls, almond-orange slice and other counter treats that locals have developed a taste for, Corrina says.

There are also “really popular” sourdough toasties, sourdough pizzas, frozen pizza dough and garlic breadcrumbs to be had.

All of which means Corrina now finds herself heading up a seven-strong team of workers.

“At least three of us work in the shop at any one time,” she says – mixing, kneading, baking, selling. And the customer is privy to it all.

“It’s unusual (here in New Zealand ) to have an open bakery like this,” she points out, agreeing the open-plan look is more reminiscent of French or other continental bakeries.

Corinna admits now the coronavirus crisis was a bit scary for her new venture. “But I knew I had a good product,” she says, “so I kept things alive by baking at home and hammering it on social media.”

She also took a risk by first investing in a large chiller to “rest” the sourdough loaves  overnight – putting in a side door to access the outside chiller – and then buying a new Ferneto spiral dough mixer that’s fondly referred to as Fern.

“Fern hugely increased our capacity and functionality,” Corrina laughs, adding the extra chiller space helped too. The whole breadmaking process is a 36-hour ferment, she explains, this particular dough requiring long resting periods to cultivate its naturally occurring wild yeasts and bacteria.

“That’s what makes sourdough so nutritionally beneficial compared to (commercial) yeast breads.”

While Corrina is excited to get a toe-hold in the Hamilton market – and hasn’t finished yet – she’s grateful for support from local businesses which have stood by her from the outset.

Raglan Four Square takes about 20 sourdough loaves a day, which it stocks both at its checkouts and in its cabinets just inside the supermarket entrance. And her old stomping ground, Orca, takes 60 to 120 loaves per week.

The range of bread now available has gone from classic white to include other varieties such as seedy sourdough and olive & rosemary. There’s also a fruity sourdough whose distinctive flavour comes courtesy of the beer malt from Raglan’s own Workshop Brewing boys in Park Drive.

And keeping it seasonal, the product range now also includes soups and salads to accompany the trademark artisan sourdough, which Corrina says is proudly made “from scratch” without  anything artificial added.

Edith Symes