By Kirra Grimes
ONE of the most delicious things to be born out of lockdown has to be The Invy Baker’s sourdough bread.
The microbusiness, launched by husband and wife team Gregorio Montalban Sanchez and Hanna Lofgren at the end of August, has already won plenty of fans around town, as locals catch glimpses of the baker himself making deliveries on a purpose-built cargo bike.
It’s not uncommon for people to chase him down the street wanting to buy his wares straight off the cart, like you’d do from an ice cream truck.
But it doesn’t quite work like that…
Producing about 460 kilograms of sourdough each week, Spanish-born Gregorio – Grego for short – bakes his sought-after bread and buns in a dedicated space at the family’s Inverloch home of eight years.
Local customers can order seeded or plain sourdough bread, fruit or olive loaves, or sweet cinnamon and cardamom buns online for delivery to their door, or (if they’re quick enough to get there before they sell out) find them at selected stockists including Vaughan’s Cafe and Deli, Goshen Country, and Udder and Hoe.
The small but lovingly made range is in hot demand, with online orders maxing out on delivery days, and bricks and mortar retailers now encouraging pre-orders to avoid disappointment.
Apart from being a trained chef who knows his flavours and his way around a kitchen, there’s a few things that make Grego’s bread special, and it all goes back to the Swedish influence.
Grego, Hanna and their two children moved to southern Sweden a couple of years ago when Hanna (who’s half Swedish) took a job there as a translator.
Grego had recently retired from cheffing after 25 years, seeking a better work/life balance; but when he tasted the local Swedish bread, he couldn’t resist getting back into the kitchen to learn how to make it himself.
All he had to do was decide which bakery made the very best bread, then approach them and ask if he could come and see how it was done.
He didn’t ask for any payment, just access to the time-honoured techniques that went into creating an exceptional quality product; and after many early mornings, his ‘apprenticeship’ was complete.
When the family returned to Australia at the beginning of this year, narrowly avoiding the coronavirus travel chaos, it was time to put that training into practice.
Relying on Grego’s hospitality know-how, they jumped in headfirst, spending the long months of lockdown renovating their home to create a small yet sophisticated bakery set up, complete with commercial grade mixing and refrigeration equipment, and the biggest investment of all: a Salva oven – the closest they could find to what Grego had honed his skills on in Sweden.
Since then, Grego’s baked countless batches using a six or seven-year-old sourdough starter gifted to him by friend and fellow Inverloch foodie Lisa Sartori of Dirty Three Wines.
The process takes between 24 and 27 hours each time – with all the mixing, shaping and proofing required to get the dough just right.
Then, Grego hops on his bike (another Swedish-inspired idea) to personally deliver each order, while Hanna takes care of the marketing side of things, in between her own freelancing work, and being mum to a four and ten year old.
While you could definitely describe the couple as entrepreneurial for what they’ve done so far, they’re bucking the trend of most businesses in not seeking to grow much further beyond the local Inverloch market.
The way they see it, keeping the business small and hyper-local is what will keep the quality of the product high, and the connection between producer and consumer strong.
They also believe it’s the most sustainable model for their young family, and for country communities in general – producing only as much as they need to to feed themselves and their neighbours, and allowing space for others to do the same in their hometowns.
“We could go bigger, but making more and more and using machines and being less hands on affects the quality in the end – that’s when people start cutting corners and you can start having problems,” Grego said.
Hanna agreed: “We could buy another oven and take on staff and sell seven days a week, all over Gippsland, but we don’t want to and we don’t think we have to. It’s not the aim to make as much money as possible, and it’s not a competitive thing.”
“We’re really inspired about the idea of other people starting up their own micro bakeries in other towns or just making their own bread at home if they can.”
It’s a philosophy that’s serving them well so far, with great feedback from customers and retailers, without sacrificing free time to spend together as a family.
“We’ve fumbled our way through with no idea how it was going to turn out, but found there’s a real demand for good local products – if people can get something done locally, they love it,” Hanna said.
“It was pretty weird launching during a pandemic but it didn’t stop us following our original plan…
“And keeping it small means we can make decisions for ourselves, and take Sundays off, and have the work fit in with our family life.”