At 3am in Pyes Pa, Brooke Bryers flicks on the oven then the coffee machine at The Artisan Bread Bakers. It’s the start of a long day and a strong brew is definitely beckoning. Six days a week Brooke and her partner Josh Brinkman leave their Kaimai home in the dead of night to start creating the breads and delicacies for which their European-style bakery has become renowned.
The couple opened The Artisan Bread Bakers last July, expecting to start off small and gradually build up a following of loyal customers looking for authentic bakery delights. Perhaps they hadn’t realised that trying to find a great tasting, perfectly crusty real baguette can be a tortuous exercise, so when they were deluged with customers from day one, they were unprepared.
Brooke roped in all three of her older sisters, their husbands, as well as her mum and dad to help in those first few months, in between their own jobs and during weekends. It was an enormous effort, with Brooke and Josh, as the sole bakers, working from 1am-9pm most days. Since streamlining their systems and hiring more staff, they’ve been able to cut down their hours and now work until around 6.30pm.
“I’ve had amazing support from my whole family,” says Brooks. “One day my sisters and mum came in at 3am to help when Josh took a day off. At other times I’ve called my parents at the end of a long day and they’ve come straight over to help clean up. It’s cool because they see what we do and understand what’s involved in running a bakery. Josh’s family is in Holland. But they’re also really excited so it makes what we’re doing here 10 times more enjoyable.”
After the early coffee’s warming hit, the couple get to work. Adding the finishing touches to the baguettes, rolls and loaves proving overnight, and then starting on the sourdough and wholemeal varieties. Everything is made fresh every day so there is always something to do. When one rack goes into the stone deck oven, or a batch of dough is resting, they turn their attention to another task. It’s a streamlined system of creating an array of exquisite breads, cakes and pastries on time and to perfection. And their growing following of customers are in bakery heaven because of it. Whether en route to work, or on their way home, they can buy great coffee, perfectly satisfying, crusty, French-style loaves, and a range of other bakery ‘delectables’, from 5.30 in the morning until 6.00 at night.
Or, they can grab a pie and a donut. Brooke says lots of people still love the Kiwi classics and they have no problem catering to everyone’s tastes. What they like to do, though, is encourage customers – like Brooke’s dad who faithfully drops in every morning for one of those old favourites – to try new things and broaden their tastes, and they’re always introducing new products to their range.
“We knew we wanted to do something different in Tauranga and make European-style artisan breads. But we also wanted to show people how healthy their bread could be.
“Some people find they get bloated when eating bread, so one of our recipes is based on the Allinson Bread which is popular in Europe and we use only purple wholemeal flour, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. For our Sourdough bread we use a European-style recipe and people love it. When people ask for new varieties, we’ll do our best to meet their needs”.
At just 22, Brooke is already eight months into her first business venture. Despite the long hours and early mornings, she loves the experience and the chance to put a smile on her customers’ faces. She’s got plans to one day visit the Boulangeries and Bakkerij of Europe and bring home a host of new products ideas. In the meantime, she and Josh are in full-on consolidation mode and she couldn’t be happier.
Getting to this point was far from easy though. Brooke left school at 16 and started working in a supermarket. When she began her bakery apprenticeship at 18 she faced backlash from managers telling her she would never make it as a baker; one even told her she could never be a good baker because she was a woman. Ironically, these comments motivated her.
“Without those negative people I probably wouldn’t be here today, because they pushed me to succeed,” says Brooke. “I’m stubborn so I wanted to prove them wrong. I knew where I wanted to go and who I wanted to go with. I knew I wanted to be right where I am now.”
How to start your bread business
Josh, who had already trained and worked as a baker in Holland, became her apprenticeship manager. This change accelerated her training. They formed a relationship and realised they shared a similar vision to run their own business. After finding the perfect location, they set to work creating the shop floor and machinery designs. She knew it was a big step; what she hadn’t anticipated was dealing with blatant age and gender discrimination when she tried to secure finance, and people doubting her commitment. She also encountered builders who assumed she didn’t know what she was talking about – they soon found out their error!
“The main challenge about building a business was being 22 and female, but if you think your idea is worth a risk, then do it. I had lots of naysayers doubting my commitment, but I realised that you can’t let anyone else’s judgements or opinions affect what you want because everyone takes a different road to get somewhere.
“I never thought I would be doing this, but if you have support you can do anything and go anywhere. So many people helped me get to this point and they are a massive part of what we have created.”
Sunday evening rolls around and Brooke and Josh turn off the coffee machine at the end of another successful week. They celebrate with dinner out and look forward to a much-deserved lie-in on their Monday off.
“It’s overwhelming to think we have this. We get to drive home from here at night and think, that’s ours, and we’ve had such a good day.”
The Artisan Bread Bakers is open Tuesday-Sunday, 5.30am-6.00pm at 83 Pyes Pa Road, Tauranga.
Follow them on Facebook www.facebook.com/TheArtisanBreadBakers
Words Millie Freeman | Images Dee Collins