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The front counter at Florets (Photo: Supplied; additional design by Archi Banal)
The front counter at Florets (Photo: Supplied; additional design by Archi Banal)

KaiFebruary 26, 2022

Auckland’s perfect bakery pairing that’s built ‘to last 100 years’

The front counter at Florets (Photo: Supplied; additional design by Archi Banal)
The front counter at Florets (Photo: Supplied; additional design by Archi Banal)

A bakery in Grey Lynn brings together two food-makers whose breads and jarred deli goods complement each other perfectly. Charlotte Muru-Lanning talks to the pair about their commitment to sustainability in every sense of the word.

A trip to Japan right before the start of the pandemic left Auckland bread-maker Maya Handley inspired. While travelling around the country, she visited family-owned tofu and soy sauce producers who had been making the same product for more than a century, and took note of their unwavering commitment to a singular, quality product.

“I felt so inspired by this idea of creating one place and continually crafting one product and dedicating a life to that space and product and community that you’re serving,” she says. “And so we had this idea that we could build a bakery that would last 100 years.”

In December last year, Handley finally opened the bakery that she’s hoping will last the distance. The shop, named Florets, sits in a two-storey block of shops built in the 1920s in the central Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn, and was the natural evolution of Handley’s sourdough delivery business Kōpiko into a more permanent home. 

The operation relies on a symbiotic partnership between bakery owner Handley and Freya de Beer Smith, who makes preserved deli products under her brand Pomona. 

Both products are sold independently in the bakery, which opens Wednesday to Sunday. Dense loaves of Handley’s artisanal sourdough and rye breads fill the front window, ready to be taken home. Glowing down the end of the long shop counter is a fridge stocked with de Beer Smith’s jarred concoctions: smoked kahawai rillettes; marinated clams, mussels and broad beans; potato sourdough skordalia, an eye-catchingly verdant herb salsa and more. 

But the bread and deli products converge too in the eatery. The cafe menu designed by de Beer Smith heroes both producers: slices of Handley’s whole-grain loaves are topped with combinations like whipped macadamia and marinated beans or a tumble of pickled egg salad with horseradish. 

The front window at Florets (Photo: Supplied)

The pair met in 2020 while Handley was operating her bread delivery business. While pulling together the threads she needed to open the bakery, she reached out to de Beer Smith, who at the time was in the early stages of developing Pomona. 

Despite their differing backgrounds, their core philosophy binds the two food makers together. 

Handley was born in New Zealand but did her high-schooling in Switzerland. “The flavours that I grew up with and the type of breads we used to eat as kids in Switzerland has actually really influenced my bread baking, sort of subconsciously,” she says. While living in New York – where she spent 13 years – Handley took part in a weekend sourdough workshop with Sarah Owens, a famous American baker. The experience resonated with her so much that she decided to switch from a career in advertising to baking. She went on to study artisan bread making at the International Culinary Centre in New York and graduated in 2018. 

De Beer Smith was born in South Africa and moved to New Zealand as a nine-year-old. After high school, she studied as a pastry chef, and worked her way through various restaurants and food businesses in both Auckland and Wellington.

“We’re both really motivated to create a sustainable business,” says Handley. Sustainability is a word that’s bandied around frequently in various industries, often with little follow-through or clarity about what is actually meant by it. But both Handley and de Beer Smith are committed to sustainability in the fullest sense of the word. Respectively, it’s pervasive in every nook and cranny of their operations. 

To the pair, it means being committed to environmental sustainability, supporting growers and producers who use organic growing practices, creating a working environment that is healthy, and having a long-term vision. Both have a clear-eyed awareness that their products are part of a much larger web – “and that’s why we were drawn to working with each other”, says de Beer Smith.

Maya Handley and Freya de Beer Smith (Photos: Supplied)

Staff at Florets are paid at least a living wage – something rare in hospitality – and Handley is determined for the cafe to become a living wage-accredited business. Despite it being challenging from a financial perspective, “We believe that we need to be paying people what it actually costs for them to have a life in Auckland today,” she says.

Beyond the typical low wages in the industry, “hospitality is pretty tough”, says Handley, both “physically and just the amount of time that goes into creating these products”. So they’re committed to creating a work environment that’s calm and supportive, with reasonable hours.

“That’s something I’ve really appreciated from being here,” adds de Beer Smith. “I’ve worked in a lot of places that haven’t been able to pay me very well, and haven’t appreciated the work I do, and it almost made me want to stop making food for a living.” 

Both Handley and de Beer Smith meticulously scrutinise where they’re sourcing ingredients from, whether it be grains, milk, coffee, eggs, vegetables or seafood. De Beer Smith looks for ingredients “that are produced in New Zealand, by people who really care about the whenua, and also care about the animals and people that their industry effects”.

For her, the challenge comes from the sheer number of ingredients used in her products. It means finding local suppliers for vegetables, olive oil, macadamias, tomatoes, fish and shellfish. “I’ve been trying to work with people who are still very connected to their business, so that when I use those products, I can really understand where it’s coming from,” de Beer Smith says.

Florets rye topped with Pomona whipped macadamia (left) and peas and beans (right) (Photos: Instagram)

Happily, having a dedication to supply has forced her to be flexible. “I think that’s why I’m enjoying my business – if something’s gone out of season, or simply just can’t be available that week, I have the flexibility to try something else,” she says.

The flour used is produced by organic New Zealand grain growers in the South Island. “That flour is absolutely delicious,” says Handley. But, she adds, “it’s really expensive and the reason it’s expensive is because that practice is really time consuming”. There are no chemicals used, so yields are less reliable, as is securing a constant supply. Flour is milled in smaller batches which means more labour, and the shipping from the South Island across Cook Strait is also one of the more expensive transportation routes in the southern hemisphere. The benefits to their suppliers make it worth it. Equally, it’s beautiful to work with and most importantly, beautiful to eat. 

As you take the stairs to the upstairs dining area at Florets you can peek down into the tiny kitchen below where dough is loaded into ovens and the menu is prepared by de Beer Smith with the help of other staff. 

A cacophony of noise from the bustling kitchen travels up the stairs – and it’s by design. “We definitely didn’t want to create an environment where we were working in an industrial capacity out the back somewhere separate,” says Handley. “We wanted to be really involved in the customer experience.” It’s reflective of a dedication to make visible the effort, care and work imbued in their products from start to finish.

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