Many of Melbourne's lockdown side hustles have been mothballed, however Tarts Anon, a Sunday-only tart business, is powering on with crisp pastry, addictive fillings and obsessed fans.
The micro-patisserie was launched in September by former Dinner by Heston head pastry chef Gareth Whitton and his partner Catherine Way, a speech pathologist with a knack for dessert logistics.
When Dinner by Heston shuttered in February at Crown, Whitton found himself unemployed as a pandemic began to grip the world. "I couldn't get any work in the industry," he says. "I ended up stacking shelves at Woolworths which was prett
On weekends, he baked. "I started making tarts to snack on after dinner. Catherine thought the tarts I was knocking together in a Woolworths flan tin were good enough to sell."
The couple letterbox-dropped their Richmond apartment block and posted on a locals' Facebook group to advertise the tarts. The response was instant.
"Richmond is a great community and everyone is passionate about food," says Whitton. "They wanted to support people who were struggling through the pandemic and they wanted a tart fix as well."
It didn't surprise the pastry chef that people wanted tarts. "It's the most amazing format of any food," he says.
"Anyone who doesn't love them needs to have a long hard look at themselves. You can have a tart in a three-Michelin-star restaurant, you can eat it with your hands as you walk down the street. They're just really nice."
Whitton says keeping up with demand was an immediate challenge. "Our oven was one tart wide with two shelves. We could blind bake two shells at once, but only bake one full tart at a time."
At first, he managed just 15 tarts a week but baking has now moved to a commercial kitchen at the Worksmith hospitality hub in Collingwood. Production is Sunday morning with pick ups for pre-orders that afternoon, fitting in with Whitton's new job at Lune Croissanterie.
He's now making 30 tarts a week, with two flavours at a time. This weekend there's a lemon and rhubarb shrewsbury tart and a sour cherry and almond financier. Orders open every Monday with an Instagram announcement and operate on first-in-best-dressed basis.
"We're not doing anything too wild," he says. "After working in fine dining, I am a bit worn out by trying to reinvent the wheel. My tarts are approachable but refined. I guess I've developed a few skills over time."Superfan Sabrina Gough was on board from week one with a cherry and almond frangipane ("it blew my socks off" she says), followed by chocolate-caramel creation.
"I fell in love," she says. "They are perfect and there's no way to compare them to any tart I've had before. I've ordered every single weekend without a break."
Gough, a finance sales manager, moved from Sydney just before lockdown. "I was living alone, I hadn't had time to connect with Melbourne's food scene and the tarts were my bit of happiness and reprieve," she says.
"They helped me on my Melbourne food journey – I was like, 'yes, this is why I'm here'."