Address: 291 Glen Huntly Rd, Elsternwick VIC 3185
From an interview with Frank that has been edited.
I didn’t want to go to the army in Germany.
So I moved as far away as possible which was Australia.
There was just white bread here. An enormous amount of it. At this other bakery I worked at we made 50,000 loaves a day. All in boxes. No variety. It was unbelievable!
So I decided that it would be better to make good European bread like I used to. I don’t know what gave me the idea. I had a passion for it.
I opened in 1968 on Glenhuntly road and we’ve been in the same place ever since.
This was probably the first hot bread shop in Melbourne.
The bread here is the same as what I was making in Bavaria. It’s good quality. No preservatives, no nothing. Just sourdough and a little bit of salt.
And people came from all over the place. We didn’t do any advertising but they were lining up outside the door. Somebody must have said, “there’s this beautiful bakery on Glenhuntly road.”
They tell one another.
“Hello John, I haven’t seen you for a while.”
“Oh because you’re not here.”
It’s just like a big family.
You stop it.
I make the bread like they had in Poland. Like they had in Germany.
It’s rye bread.
And we’ve been making the pretzels, scrolls and rolls since we started.
Have a piece.
In 1968 we got that oven secondhand and we’re still using it today. Everything has remained the same. The shop looks the same, the products are the same and the customers are the same, except they are older.
And I have one baker who has been here all this time. He started when he was about 16, and now he is about 50.
He’s still doing the same things.
This is sourdough.
This bucket holds about 40 loaves of bread.
Over the course of about eight hours we put it in the mixer with a little bit of salt, a little bit of flour and a little bit of water. We mix it up, I put it in the oven for 90 minutes and that’s it.
It is roughly 500 years old* and – as long as you keep feeding it with more water and flour – it never dies. That’s how you get the flavour. As the bacteria multiplies it creates little air bubbles which makes the bread rise.
There’s probably 50 million bacteria in here, and they do the job. It has a funny but good smell. Sort of the same as yoghurt or beer. It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? And every night it’s the same story. I was taught this at the bakery my parents owned in Germany.
It’s where I learned my trade.
I’m about to cut the onions for the rolls tomorrow.
Fresh onions are the most important thing. And what happens after? You want to know again! I think you want to run the shop. All of a sudden you’ll say, “Frank, I’m taking over!”
But it’s just normal bread, freshly cut onions, a little bit of salt, a little bit of poppy seed and that’s it. And these pretzels, nowhere you get pretzels like this. What’s special about them is that they are Bavarian pretzels.
But I can’t tell you the secret recipe.
Anyway, take one. Go ahead.
I’ll also replace the bread on the board behind me. One of the breadsticks is broken and dry, but it’s not mouldy.
People tend to go to the supermarket a bit more now.
They buy the toothpaste, the soap powder, the cucumber and the bread. And they run away with the credit card. It’s not the other bakeries providing competition. As a matter of fact – since I’ve been here – three bakeries have opened and three bakeries have closed.
And they were cheaper.
You can’t exist if you are too cheap. You have to have quality. Because the ingredients are simple – sourdough and a little bit of salt – you have to spend a lot of time on it. We start at 11:30pm for the bread to be ready in the morning.
For other people they start at 5am and the bread is ready at 6:30.
They put stuff in there that hurries it along.
Of course I’m still passionate.
I’m so old that I should be retired. But I’m still doing it because it’s fun.
People will come over and say, “Frank, you make the best bread!”
“It is exactly like the type I had as a child.”
A lot of people have this memory of growing up in Europe and eating Bavarian bread. It’s the way that bread is supposed to be.
Satisfying in taste and mind.
Oh, the street has changed a hell of a lot.
There used to be a hardware shop. A butcher shop. A fish shop. A barber. Another butcher. A haberdashery, and you don’t even know what a haberdashery is! They sell cotton wool, needles and stuff.
It was big!
Now you walk along the street and – in the rubbish bin – there’s an umbrella. When I was a child, there were people who fix the umbrellas when they break. Today, when it breaks, bam!
In the bin.
The art of fixing things? Forget it. Look, your jumper has got a hole in it. You’ll probably chuck it away and get a new one.
Well, after this, maybe you’ll wear it with a hole in it.
I haven’t got much of a plan for the future.
Let me tell you a story.
After I finished my apprenticeship with my parents I worked in another bakery. He gave every child half a pretzel. A few years ago, I visited him on holiday and he’s making 60,000 pretzels every day.
“I told you,” he said.
“When they grow up they will continue buying pretzels.”
I’m just making conversation but – soon – I’ll be a statue in the park that pigeons shit on.
So my future is carrying on until I think, “Oh, I can’t carry on anymore.”
Anyway, now you know everything so you can take over.
* [Author note: I was later told that Frank carried the sourdough – which was given to him by his parents – to Australia in his pockets.]
Written by Aron Lewin and all photos by Tatiana C C Scott