As I continue to explore the world of bread, my appreciation for this incredible food grows ever stronger. It is a world of seemingly limitless diversity where bread is fashioned in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors. For most of breads several thousand-year-old history, it was a product made from the flour of ground grain such as wheat, mixed with water and then baked. Innovation and diversification came naturally as bread spread throughout the world. Like a good cheese or a fine wine, bread is unique to the region it comes from. The recent industrialization of the worlds food system is putting this in jeopardy, but the majority of bread today is still produced by the hands of skilled bakers.
One New Zealand baker is turning out loaves that you wouldn’t find at your local French boulangerie. Yeshe Dawa started The Midnight Baker a few years ago from humble beginnings and her business has gone from strength to strength due to the success of her ‘Freedom Loaf’. It’s a bread that is wheat, gluten, dairy, egg, refined sugar, yeast and nut free. This clearly ticks a lot of boxes for people with gluten, wheat and dairy sensitivities but that doesn’t hinder the fact that this bread tastes delicious, has a very high nutritional content and is surprisingly filling. I had the chance to meet with Yeshe on a foggy Friday morning in her café located on Dominion road in Auckland to ask some questions about her bread and how The Midnight Baker got to where it is today:
Q – The Freedom Loaf is a nutrient-dense, filling and delicious bread. Could you share a little about the ingredients and what makes this bread different?
A – The main ingredients we use are sunflower seeds, linseed, pumpkin seeds, psyllium husks, chia seeds, coconut oil, coconut sugar and salt. We then add in the main ingredient of oats or buckwheat flour to this mix. We use almost all of the ingredients in their whole form so they can retain the greatest amount of their nutrients. Oats are an exception to this as we use rolled oats meaning they are slightly processed. We mix the loaves with the liquid ingredients and then give them time to set. This results in a bread that is rich in fiber as well as protein and just one slice is noticeably filling.
Q – How did you come to start The Midnight Baker and when did you realize you could make a business out of selling this bread?
A – My interest in this bread came from looking for an alternative to the common supermarket bread that was available. I used to get pretty bad eczema and in an attempt to heal myself from the inside out I cut out gluten, dairy and alcohol from my diet. The gluten free bread that was on offer in the supermarket was often full of highly processed and refined ingredients and it just wasn’t the nutritious bread I was looking for. My friend gave me a recipe for a homemade bread that I started making and trialing with variations. That’s where the Freedom Loaf came from.
Q – You seem to have one main bread product which is the Freedom Loaf and a variation of that which is made with buckwheat. Do you have plans to expand your product offering?
A – That is definitely on the cards but it’s unlikely to be a focus in the short term. Running a business is a lot of hard work and it’s something that is relatively new to me. By the time I make the bread, clean the kitchen, finish the accounts, respond to emails and take wholesale & online orders, not a lot of time is left to work on product experimentation. Once I move down the track a little further I’m hoping that I’ll have more time to work on new products.
Q – How did you initially market and spread the word of your product? Did you attend farmers markets, use social media or rely on local advertising?
A – I initially started out selling my bread at Parnell La Cigale farmers market here in Auckland every Sunday and that really acted as a launchpad for the business. I didn’t have my own commercial kitchen at the time so I was hiring someone else’s kitchen in the evenings. The market acted as an outlet where I could sell my bread but also allowed me to talk to customers, get their feedback and connect with people. As the business started to grow, I found that my time and energy shifted towards focusing more on wholesale.
With regards to social media, it certainly plays a big role in the business. I used to work with a jewelry company where I did their sales and communications. I had connections in the fashion industry who gave me opportunities and my first big break came from doing the catering for a seasonal launch for a local fashion label. It was a chance for all these people who I knew, that worked within the PR and media sphere, to see me in this other role as launching The Midnight Baker. This led to me connecting my first stockists and it pretty much grew from there.
Q – From a business perspective, what were some of the major challenges with getting The Midnight Baker to where it is today?
A – Capital has been a big challenge with getting the business off the ground. You want to be able to advertise your product in an appealing way with creative banners and flyers but the money involved can be quite substantial. Moving into my own location with all the associated costs and overheads was a major challenge. Becoming a manager was also testing as it’s a role that I didn’t have much experience in before. Making sure that employees are happy, engaged, paid on time, feeling stimulated and challenged enough are all aspects of the business that I need to be on top of, as well as everything else. This is where I feel that having a business partner can really come in helpful and it also enables you to have someone to bounce ideas off and share accountability.
Q – You opened this lovely plant-based café two years ago. Do you think that people are becoming more conscious of what they eat and that plant-based diets are growing in popularity?
A – Yes, I think so. There is a lot more information available today regarding the impact that farming has on the environment. There are more people offering creative and delicious alternatives to meat based products. I also think that people are becoming more conscious of what they eat, at least in terms of where the product originated from and what the ingredients are. But it comes from a very privileged position to be able to do that because unhealthy, processed foods can very often be the cheaper alternative to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Q – Finally, what size of a team do you currently have and do you have any plans to open a second café location?
A – I currently have six people employed. Myself and one other are full-time and the rest work part time. At the moment I don’t intend on opening another café. The café is great as it offers us a bricks and mortar location to interact with customers and it allows us the opportunity to provide healthy, nutritious food to the local community. However, my focus at the moment is on building the wholesale side of the business and seeing where things develop from there.
I thank Yeshe for her time and leave her to the mountain of tasks that seem to await her attention. I can’t help but feel inspired by the mammoth success of this venture in just a few short years, starting out at a single stall in an Auckland farmers market to now stocking the shelves of a growing list of shops as well as being served in cafes that stretch the length of the country. The Freedom Loaf caters to those with special dietary requirements while still offering a delicious alternative for the common bread aficionado. It is growing in popularity and may well become an enduring addition to menus across the country. The sky is certainly the limit for The Midnight Baker.
Image by Pivot Photography