Tucked behind the main road off Broken Head, down a non-descript dirt path that bears the unassuming landmark of a single red letter box with a cut out shaped heart, marks the entrance to Simon Ivanac and Rachel Pearson’s private hideaway and the engine room of their popular baking business Heartbreads.
As self taught bakers, the husband and wife duo never anticipated that what initially emerged motivated by curiosity, would lead to something so enterprising, and now, close to 9 years later, the continued success of the business shows no signs of stopping and their level of passion is still sustained by the same degree of enthusiasm that developed early on in their baking practice.
I catch up with them on what is a typical day out of their baking week. It’s late afternoon, on the eve of the weekly farmers market in Byron. I arrive to wafting smells of fresh baked loaves resting on trolley-lined shelves, there is an urgent precision in the undertaking of timing here, but nothing seems rushed. Simon and Rachel weave between the detailed processes of mixing, rolling and anticipating the resting time for the dough – a lengthy 6 hours. The wood fire stone oven is ready to be loaded with fresh loaves already spent of their resting time. They are seamless in their production. Hours of practice, mistakes and familiarization with the product has been spent into achieving the result they present today. When Simon explains the process of how they started, it is hard to imagine their humble beginnings were originally supported by the small domestic oven in their home. It wasn’t until things were picking up momentum, that they commenced plans to build their first wood fire oven and demand outgrew their kitchen operation, forcing them to set up outdoors. “We heard that the New Brighton market were looking for a new baker, so I spoke to the manager, we were still baking out of this one then” Simon tells me, pointing to their kitchen oven, “when they started showing interest we built a proper oven and things really started changing. That’s how it began – New Brighton farmers market 8 years ago”.
Originally from WA, Simon landed in Byron Bay 15 years ago. He met Rachel through a business partnership he was pursuing with Rachel’s brother at the time. Baking plans emerged shortly after. With a spot finally secured at the New Brighton farmer’s market, Simon was juggling work arrangements between his teaching position at the Steiner school and managing his time baking. A tag team scenario developed between Simon and Rachel for a while as they would have to co-ordinate their baking time, and setting up shop at the market before Simon would head off to continue his afternoon teaching classes. Their commitment to two jobs as well as caring for their small children continued till the end of that year, before they finally made the decision to commit to baking full time. “I finished teaching at the end of that year, we realized it was a good business opportunity but needed more markets”. Submitting an application to the Byron farmers market took an entire year to be approved, but the hold up only strengthened Simon and Rachel’s eagerness to be part of a market so stringent in its policy toward new stallholders. Thorough inspections on their property were conducted regularly, ensuring they were adhering to the strict regulations set by the committee of the Byron markets. “They wanted to know what we were growing here, except for the wheat, we had to grow everything else that we were using in our breads. We’ve got about 40-50 chooks here, we try and produce all our own eggs, all the citrus we could use, bananas; and in that way, we were fulfilling the farmer role side of the business as much as we could”.
Once securing their position at the Byron Markets they applied for a spot in Bangalow. Eventually Mullumbimby started their own markets and for a couple of years they were committed to producing bread for all four market sites, an undertaking that Rachel explains took a heavy toll on the both of them, “we worked out Simon was averaging almost 24 hours off a week – it nearly killed us”. The intensive process involved in being artisan bakers demands attention to detail and for Simon and Rachel, the process was and still is very much a manual operation “the oven care, the cutting of the wood the lighting and firing is so labour intensive, no-one really realizes how much time it takes. Simon spends about 20 hours a week on wood related work alone”.
With the exception of a new mixer only purchased a few years ago, everything conducted on their property is all worked by hand. Their passion for maintaining a high quality product makes them reluctant to consider plans of expanding “we’re physically at capacity now” Rachel explains, “at the beginning we felt pressured to say yes to everything, yes to more markets, yes to making new loaves, to new accounts, but in the end you end up spreading yourself very thin and don’t do anything particularly well”.
With wholesale accounts including Gaia retreat, Mavis’s Kitchen and Steven Snow’s reputable restaurant Fins to name just a few, Heartbreads have made a big impression on the local community and their quality of care is what attributes to their soaring popularity. If the saying ‘less is more’ is anything to go by, then these guys are certainly testament to that.
Despite the lucrative potential to grow the business, Rachel and Simon’s philosophy of keeping things within their control and produced by them alone ensures the bar is always set high and although the success of heavyweight bakers like Sonoma and Bourke Street Bakery in Sydney may seem tempting, Simon and Rachel’s vision has never swayed. “We’ve seen other people grow their business and the quality changes. We don’t really want to make our business any bigger, just more efficient. We work from home; if we were to get bigger we’d have to go off site or change things. There’s only one other person handling our bread and that’s enough”.
A true labour of love, the success of Heartbreads rests on the couple’s dedication and uncompromising approach to developing their product. Their genuine interest in maintaining the authenticity in what they do is testament to their unwavering popularity and exercising the principle of putting product before profit.
Heartbreads can be found weekly at the following Farmers Markets:
Tuesday – New Brighton
Thursday – Byron Bay
Friday – Mullumbimby
Writer and Photographer – Paula Hagiefremidis