It started as a small bakery at Founder’s Park back in about 2005 and while it is still a small artisan business L’Artisan Bakery now produces its delicious treats from premises in the Marble Arch Arcade.
This is a true family business in every sense, while it is currently owned by Donna and Charlie Ryan L’Artisan Bakery it was started by Charlie’s mother three years before they took it over and they still use many recipes from his mother and grandmother; their son Tom also worked in the business learning all about bread making before he headed off to Wellington where he now hand makes sour dough breads for the restaurant he works for.
One of the most popular treats the Ryans produce, the cinnamon bun, is based on a recipe from Charlie’s great grandmother so this artisan bakery business has very deep food production roots.
The Ryans moved to Nelson from England where they had a restaurant at South Sea for 14 years and where they made their own breads for the restaurant.
Charlie’s food service background started about 30 years ago when he was the personal butler for Hugh Heffner at the Playboy mansion in California and he says “Hugh took his food very seriously and this was a great start in the food business because there were dinners and parties all the time and he insisted on great food and service.”
Donna and Charlie met in California after his days at the Playboy mansion and have lived and worked together ever since, they both agreed “there will never be any pink buns with bunny ears in their food cabinets”, a bit disappointing really!
Lack of pink buns aside the breads and treat produced at L’Artisan are based on traditional artisan bread making techniques including sour dough breads, the wholemeal sour dough takes its influence from a bakery in France called Poulin where they have a sour dough starter that is about 250 years old. “We could never make the same bread here because every sour dough starter is different but we can use it as a guide to make our own version” says Charlie. “Our rye dough starter has been alive for about 10 years and the white dough starter they make San Francisco Sour Dough bread from was started by my mother when she started the business in about 2002.”
Charlie’s Grandmother wrote a small cook book they have as a reference book and the recipe for their cinnamon buns comes from that book, his grandmother learned the recipe from her mother and including it in the book means traditional family recipes will not be lost.
While the Ryans had plenty of experience in the food industry they obviously didn’t know everything about baking, especially the commercial logistics and Donna says “we were very lucky to meet Roalnd Dallas who was an immense help to us, especially with the production in a much larger scale than we were used to and he also taught us the secret to a great ciabatta, one of our most popular products”.
In 2013 they dismantled the ovens into hundreds of pieces and moved them to the current premises and good old Kiwi ingenuity “thousands of people and plenty of rope we managed to move the huge beasts without having to dismantle the front to the shop.”
At L’Artisan Bakery they bake all through the day rather than just in the morning and the seductive smell of freshly baked breads and pastries draw in customers. They make all of their products from scratch in-house, they make their own pastry and even make their own cinnamon sugar using high grade cinnamon and the quality of the cinnamon is the real secret to the flavour of the popular sticky bun.
Other favourites include the pasties and they have a number of Cornish customers who come in and buy those and of course the cheese straws are irresistible to the point they have some customers who insist on being emailed when they are making them so they don’t miss out and one guy will buy almost every cheese straw left on the shelf when he comes in.
New York bagels that are dense, chewy and malty are another customer essential, these are hand formed, boiled and then baked but are only available on Fridays and Saturdays at this stage. Why? Because Charlie damaged his shoulder a few months ago and while it heals he isn’t allowed to do any of the physical kneading required to make many products so not only are some products limited to certain days of the week opening hours are also reduced to Wednesday to Friday from 9.30am ‘til 4pm and Saturdays from 7am ‘til 2pm.
Finally, Charlie says “Baking is supposed to be one of the most honest products made in the world and artisan baking is all about small production using as much local product as we can.” And I think that is the successful recipe for any small artisan producer.