Gill South: Artisan baker uses his loaf to expand business

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Wild Wheat bakery has been embraced by its Mt Eden clients, says Andrew Fearnside. Photo / Richard Robinson
Wild Wheat bakery has been embraced by its Mt Eden clients, says Andrew Fearnside. Photo / Richard Robinson

Those who appreciate an authentic bagel and like their bread to be a European style sourdough with a New Zealand twist will know the artisan bread of Wild Wheat, sold at its bakeries in Mt Eden, Belmont and Howick.

Set up initially as a wholesaler to the restaurant trade by former chef Andrew Fearnside in October, 1999, the Howick local opened his first retail bakery in Mt Eden in 2004. Five years ago he bought his factory in Pakuranga and today employs 52 staff.

The company's biggest wholesale customer is now Farro Fresh, providing it with 1500 to 2000 loaves per store every month, and the total Wild Wheat business has a turnover of around $3 million.

Fearnside was strongly influenced by his OE on what he wanted to do with his business. He worked in the in-house bakery of Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in London for four years.

"After all the aggression and pressure of a restaurant, being in a bakery all of a sudden was like being in a different world," he says.

He picked baking up very quickly and later did an advanced Artisan Bread course at the San Francisco Baking Institute.

The time he has spent in San Francisco introduced Fearnside to the renowned bakery/cafe Tartine.

"Tartine inspired me. If I could get even close to that," he says. "They did the best toasted sandwiches I'd had in my entire life."

The entrepreneur would love to emulate Tartine here in a flagship store, preferably around Mt Eden.

"We have had fantastic support from people in Mt Eden - the Mt Eden bakery is the best thing that has happened to Wild Wheat."

His European-style dense breads have taken a bit of education but he now has a strong following. Wild Wheat has become known for its traditional hot cross buns which have won a number of Champion Easter Bun Bake Off awards for the North Island since 2004. The subsequent media interest earned the fledgling retail business thousands of dollars of free TV publicity.

The business owner runs regular bread specials which tempt people to try new things. He has had to bend in certain areas.

"New Zealanders have this idea that a bakery must have pies and doughnuts," he says. His doughnuts are sourdough.

Though most of Fearnside's experience with Wild Wheat has been positive, he had his first failure last year when he opened a new bakery in Hurstmere Road, Takapuna in July and found the market was not what he had expected, closing in Easter this year.

"Last year was the worst business year of my life for 12 years," says Fearnside.

"It made me more wary."

For now he is happy to ride on the coat-tails of Farro Fresh which is expanding to Hamilton and other parts of Auckland.

The baker has had friend and lawyer Andrew Franicevic, a partner at Hornabrook McDonald, advising him through the ups and downs. "I am still learning every day how to be a businessman," says Fearnside.

The former chef also meets regularly with business adviser, Zac de Silva who he was introduced to through The Icehouse.

"I've been getting some really great results," he says. De Silva is good at getting him to "quantify my gut feelings," says Fearnside and has talked to him about having a board.

The former chef has just employed his sister, Sarah, to do the paperwork for the company.

"I would rather spend my time in the kitchen than in the office," says Fearnside.

- NZ Herald

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