Custard and I go back a long way: it is the first thing I learnt how to cook when – after her surgery – mum had difficulty stirring pots. Custard evokes memories: Aunty Elvira’s recipe for “crema pasticcera”: a trusted friend when needing to whip up a delicious treat; my toddler nephew Lorenzo wrecking havoc at family dinners screaming “cremina!”, when pudding was something else, something inferior…
Like most basic things in cooking, custard is simple but revealing: only the very best ingredients will let it sing and one spoonful of sugar too many will betray the chef’s lack of confidence. One bite of Scratch’s profiteroles: their crisp choux pastry, uncompromising dark chocolate cover and – most of all – their delicious custard filling, was enough to realize this chef was the real thing.
“Scratch” is the creation of Greg and Angie Wilton: he is the chef, she is the business powerhouse. Greg describes it as: “a bit of a dream really; it was something I always wanted to do: open my own bakery – patisserie; either that or buy an old one and do it up”.
I wonder why they chose Mullumbimby as home for their dream and it turns out he is “a local”. The term takes on different meanings depending on whom you are speaking to, up here: a farmer, ageing hippie or a tree-changer. The tribes fight over it a bit. I have been living in the area since 2008 and I don’t know whether I qualify; I suspect not. Having been born in Byron Bay, schooled in Mullumbimby and first trained as an apprentice baker in Brunswick Heads, I reckon Greg does. Angie is from Melbourne; the couple met in the Whitsundays, where they were both working: he baking and skippering boats and she translating for Japanese tourists. So why coming back to Mullumbimby? “I think it was just easy – says Greg – We love it. I brought Angie back here because I missed surfing and I wanted to bring up my kids near the surf and Ange fell in love with the place so we decided we settle here”. As it turns out, Greg still misses surfing and Angie misses her yoga. Scratch is five, the kids are four and two; starting a business and a family at the same time leaves little time for the fun stuff.
When they first came back, Greg worked in bakeries in Kingscliff and Suffolk Park while they thought of a way to start on their own. He says he struggles baking for others: it is a hard life that does not pay very well; the reward lays in the expression of one’s creativity, which is often cramped under someone else’s direction.
Scratch’s first incarnation was as a wholesale business operating out of Jordan’s, the bakery in Mullumbimby industrial estate: they baked bread and – when the ovens were free – Greg baked pastries for the hotels in the area. They had a slow start, until Angie decided to approach the cafes: they did a milk run with gift-boxes showcasing their pastries and – unsurprisingly – the orders flocked in.
Once they were satisfied that the business was going OK, they started looking for their own premises. Greg remembered there was a café at the bottom of this alley off Stewart St 15 or 20 years ago; he remembered its three steps at the front. The place had been vacant, they could rent it cheaply so they moved in and operated as wholesalers for two years. Demand was strong and they started bursting at the seams so when the solicitors next doors moved out, they took that space too. They started debating whether to become a big wholesale business and move back out to the industrial estate or have a shot at being a retail business. At the same time, The Byron Farmers Market was looking at refreshing its offer and approached them with the suggestion to apply for a spot. They did and got in… And retail it was. “There was no real major plan to it all, it just unfolded”, says Greg.
Market stalls up here are hotly contested; especially at the farmers’ markets, which have become popular with travelers and locals alike. The regular demand from a weekly market can – and often does – sustain an entire business. Being invited to one is either extremely lucky or a huge compliment; in this case – most likely – a bit of both. Mullum’s market was not that easy: they had to wait a while for their spot but – when the bagel stall closed shop – they jumped in.
They qualify for the farmers’ markets because they live on land and use some of their own produce: they keep laying hens and grow lemons, passion fruit and strawberries. Greg is quick to admit that the business has long outgrown their orchard and a lot of the ingredients are now sourced from the markets themselves: “All our meat we buy through Hayters Hill Farm. Any rhubarb or vegetables we buy through the market, when in season through Henry at Wickerwood or Jumping Red Ant farm. The cheese that goes into our spinach and feta rolls, we buy through Nimbin Valley Dairy; the apples are from Robert and Michelle Constanzo, who bring them in from Stanthorpe”. Milk was tricky: they tried using Nimbim Valley Dairy for that too but storing it became an issue so they switched to Norco organic milk, which the Lismore-based coop can deliver daily.
The business grew fast and the lessons Greg learnt managing staff at diving pontoons on the coral reef come in handy now that they employ eight people. The couple still want growth, but at a sensible pace. Ange: “We just want to find that balance between a successful business and family life. We don’t want it to get too big. People suggest all sort of things: that we franchise or move onto the high street but it has been a pretty crazy couple of years and now all we want is a business that we are both proud of; something that Greg could work in and really enjoy and that we have time for the family too. We are just trying to find the balance at the moment. We are still in the growth phase so hopefully in the next few years we’ll get there. Things are slowly improving. Greg is off night shifts – mostly – which makes a huge difference to our family life. I might be able to get back into the shop a bit now that the kids are old enough to be in daycare for a few hours”.
“Made from Scratch” opens Tuesday to Saturday in the alley next to Betta Electrical in Mullumbimby and sells through the farmers’ markets of Byron Bay on Thursdays and Mullumbimby on Fridays. Get there early, profiteroles and millefeuilles practically run out of the door.
Shop 6/108 Stuart Street,
Mullumbimby NSW 2483
Phone: 02 6684 2914
Open Tuesday to Friday 8am-2pm.
Saturday 8am – Midday.