Ovens Street Bakery: the story behind the Brunswick bread hub

The trestle table at Ovens Street Bakery in the backstreets of Brunswick.
The trestle table at Ovens Street Bakery in the backstreets of Brunswick. Photo: Simon Schluter

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."

Pip Hayes was inspired to get into baking by his Polish grandmother.
Pip Hayes was inspired to get into baking by his Polish grandmother. Photo: Simon Schluter

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.

Advertisement

Hayes originally began wholesaling his sourdough loaves to Kines cafe around the corner from his bakery and local grocers Wild Things in Fitzroy North and Senserrick in Carlton North. Only on a Sunday morning would he sell his bread straight to the public from a no-frills trestle outside The Wine Shop in Sparta Place, off Brunswick's busy Sydney Road.

Word quickly spread among Brunswick locals wanting to know more about this pop-up baking enigma.

"People started to catch on and we kept selling out," Hayes says. "That's when we decided to sell straight from the bakery."

He means it literally. Customers had to walk inside the functioning bakery to buy a loaf. "Eventually we punched a hole through the brick wall, which is the service window you see now," he says.

"We don't have a front of house or back of house; everything is on display. The space is so small, there's nowhere to hide."

And it's true, standing at the counter allows customers to look straight into the heart of the business – the kitchen – and see firsthand where the breads, French-inspired pastries including almond croissants and fruit-filled Danish by pastry chef Jackie O'Sullivan (formerly of Tivoli Road), and yes, the Polish doughnuts, are baked.

"The paczki are a riff off an old traditional recipe. I add a little brandy to mine," says Hayes.

Despite Ovens Street Bakery's quaint size, it's had a big impact on bread lovers in Brunswick and beyond. The line was non-stop on Sundays and Hayes often found himself closing early because everything sold out, leading him to add Saturdays to the roster, but then the same thing happened. Now the bakery operates from Thursday to Sunday with plans to "open a few more days this year".

Hayes tries to keep his working hours sustainable and not burn out, so he has the energy to do one of his favourite parts of his job – talking sourdough with customers. "All sorts of people – professors, lawyers, doctors, teachers – come in to chat about it," he says. "They've got starters fermenting or bake at home, it's great."

For those with zero inclination to bake, Hayes has you covered, just set the alarm and visit Ovens Street early. You can always buy a loaf, take it home and go back to bed – no one will judge.

Ovens Street Bakery, 19 Ovens Street, Brunswick, is open Thu-Sun 9am-1pm.