The Bread Everyone Kneads

Weekends are designed for sleep-ins but one Melbourne baker is forcing people out of bed. Pip Hayes never intended to be a gluten alarm clock but locals flock to his Brunswick bakery with a sense of urgency – they need his bread to start the day.

Hayes and his business partner, Dave Murray, opened Ovens Street Bakery in early 2017 and it's since become a community hub. There's always a line of loaf-lovers, who secretly hope the person in front of them doesn't order the last soy and linseed or rye, but who also love this micro bakery so much they can't keep it to themselves and are the reason the line gets longer every week. "I love seeing the regulars and their eagerness for our bread," Hayes says.

Unlike his sourdough loaves, which ferment overnight, Ovens Street Bakery was years in the making. Growing up with a Polish grandmother, Hayes' taste for bread extended beyond the plain white supermarket variety enjoyed by his classmates. "My babcia exposed us to different poppy seed pastries, placki potato pancakes, and rye and caraway breads," he says. "She passed away a few years ago and particularly around Christmas Eve I feel nostalgic for the things she used to cook."

Through his grandmother Hayes was also introduced to paczki – a variety of deep-fried doughnut filled with a sour plum jam and rolled in granulated sugar. It would be the sweet treat of his youth that would give him the impetus to start his own business decades later. "I originally wanted to open a bakery doing some form of doughnuts."

However, things changed when he found a rare second-hand deck oven (a commercial baker's oven). "We were really lucky to find it in good condition and purchased it – that's when we were like, 'We have to do bread now'."

Shifting the focus to bread was not totally unexpected. Hayes had worked as a commercial baker since the early 2000s but unofficially started his career in his own kitchen. "I was an at-home baker. I got really interested in the science of sourdough and started practising at home, some of my early loaves were shocking."

Many loaves later, Hayes found himself working in his first commercial kitchen at Loafer in Fitzroy North, followed by full-time stints at Giant Steps in Healesville and Wye River General Store, where he became a part-owner.

Leaving the ovens behind for a few years in 2015, Hayes went on an overseas cycling trip, but on his return to Melbourne he began slowly collecting baking equipment. He'd soon amassed enough to fit out his own fully operational commercial bakery. Hayes had been in chats with his now business partner, Dave Murray, for years about opening a bakery and with everything now aligned, they turned the pipe dream into a reality.

A good omen is always welcomed when starting a new business and for this pair they found it when they decided to set up shop in an old industrial warehouse on Ovens Street. "Dave already had the lease for the building and we thought why not do it here," Hayes says of the location, in an unassuming factory-lined Brunswick backstreet.

This article was originally published in the Tuesday print edition of The Age’s Good Food, photo by Sabine Timm.

Lisa Marie Corso