The rise of the tiniest bread shop in Raglan

by Venetia Sherson / 20 May, 2018
Photos by Ken Downie.
Jenny Carter of Ruapuke Artisan Bakery, in Raglan.

How to make dough in Raglan

In a town of small businesses, Jenny Carter’s is the smallest. Her workplace in Raglan measures 2.8sqm – smaller than her car or bed. If she stands in the middle of the shop, and spreads her arms, she can touch both walls. To get in or out, she ducks under the counter. “It’s perfect for my needs,” she says. She has no plans to expand.

Carter makes bread: chunky, crisp-topped sour dough loaves, seedy rolls named Ruapuke Rips (after the infamous rip at the Ruapuke Beach break near her home) and rolls stuffed with bitter, locally-made chocolate. In Raglan, she’s known to many as “the bread lady”. If she stops at the garage or the supermarket, often someone will call out, “Hey, bread lady, got any bread left?” If she has, she’ll give them a loaf. “It probably looks a bit like a drug deal going down.”

She began making bread when her children were young. Then, four years ago, when Carter was in her mid-50s, she found herself without a job or work prospects in a town with a small population and high unemployment. Thinking laterally – “or desperately” – she decided to turn her home-baking into a business. “I didn’t know anything about sour dough. I wasn’t industry trained. And I knew I’d have to turn out 50 to 60 consistently good loaves each week.”

She delved into the internet, enlisted the help of a couple of Wellington friends and started practising. Then she drew up a business plan and applied for an enterprise allowance from the government, which was granted.

Read more: The project helping food businesses in West AucklandWhere to find the best bread in Auckland | Murray's rye sourdough bread by Lauraine Jacobs

A happy customer snaps up a loaf.

At first, she sold bread on Raglan’s main street, but then noticed a narrow passage next to Trade Aid that was being used for storage. She approached Trade Aid, who were happy for her to develop it as a shop. Her son made a sign; she put up a counter and shelves.  

These days, she turns out 65 loaves a week – 150 in summer, when Raglan’s population trebles. She bakes from a small, purpose-built building beside her home, where her grandparents farmed in the early 1900s, and which she renovated when she returned to Raglan to live. Her baking days begin at 4.30am, before the gulls have begun circling the sea for their breakfast. The shop, Ruapuke Artisan Bakery, is open for just a couple of hours, three days a week.

Bread wrapped in beeswax pure-cotton.

Carter says sour dough is a “really honest bread” that matches her values and – she thinks – sits well in Raglan, where people are not pretentious and look out for each other. “I like the fact the bread creates itself, and that it’s good for you. Because you must chew it, it stimulates the saliva in the gut.” Sour dough bread has its own personality, she says, unlike white supermarket bread, which is merely wrapping paper for the fillings and toppings. For children, she bakes tiny loaves, weighing just 100g.

Any unsold bread is distributed by the rural delivery mail service, or dropped in letterboxes by Carter, who slips the loaves into brown paper bags and transports them in cane baskets. She also makes beeswax pure-cotton bread wraps, which keep the bread fresh for longer. “It’s what our grandmothers used to do.”

Most of her regular customers are locals, who like to stop for a chat when they pick up their loaf. “It’s all about real interactions with real people and real food.”

This was published in the February 2018 issue of North & South.


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