It took 12 years of tertiary education but the owner of Millers’ Local Bakehouse Emma Huber has come full circle.
Though her first foray into hospital business ownership was 14 years ago, the pull to the kitchen long predates that.
“I always wanted to be a chef but was heavily discouraged by my family,” she explains.
Instead, she went and studied industrial design at university – but it didn’t keep her from the industry she truly loved.
“I realised if I was at university and studying full time, and I wanted to pay my way, I’d have to work in hospitality. But the truth is, it was a convenient excuse,” she says.
“I knew the longer I was at university, the longer I could work in restaurants, bars, cafes and kitchens.”
To that end, she went on to complete not only her degree in industrial design, but degrees in fine arts and business as well, all while working various hospitality jobs.
She spent 12 years in total doing this before yielding to the truth – like it or not, she was a hospitality lifer.
Eventually she and her husband, a chef in his own right, opened their first cafe – Sandygoodwich on Crown Street in Wollongong. There, Emma indulged her every repressed culinary urge, making everything from cakes, cured meats and pickles from scratch.
It’s also where she started the “mother” dough that today results in the scintillating sourdough almond croissants and other baked goods that have gained her brand – Millers’ Local Bakehouse – a cult following.
Emma opened the first Millers’ Local Bakehouse where Sandygoodwich used to be after the business had run its course. That operation is still there today, open Fridays and Saturdays from 9 am to 11 am only.
The business also has pop-up stores at Moore Street General in Austinmer and Yakka Records & Bottle-O in Port Kembla on Fridays.
But the real hub, opened earlier this year, is a full commercial kitchen running five days a week to supply a dozen or so Illawarra stockists, with a hole-in-the-wall retail operation open Saturdays only from 9:30 am to 11 am.
Emma admits it’s a bit of an unorthodox business model, but – and perhaps it’s the business degree kicking in – it works for the way locals consume her products.
“The Illawarra is a collection of disparate markets, and people from the north often won’t go all the way to Wollongong for their baked goods, and I get that,” she says.
“This way, we make our products accessible to a wider local market.”
“Local” is the magic word. Emma and her contemporaries have a passion for local supply chains and sustainable food systems. What’s more, the model does work, as evidenced by the orderly queue snaking its way down the street from the Bulli shop each Saturday.
They’re there for a product they know to be reliably good, Emma says.
“I think a lot of people see the queue and think we stumbled into overnight success,” Emma says.
“Really, I have been making my almond croissants down here for 10 years. And it was 10 years of turning up every day, doing the same thing, and trying to do it better every day than I did the day before.”
Producing the Millers’ range of breads and pastries is a long, slow, and nuanced process. The signature almond croissant takes three days to make before the almond filling can even be added.
They’re all made from the same yeast culture, known as a “mother” – the very same that was grown and used to make bread at Sandygoodwich all those years ago. A mixture of flour and water fermented in just the right way to cultivate gut-assisting properties and a distinctive flavour, creating a mother and keeping it alive requires patience and constant care.
But, as it turns out, biding time in the pursuit of perfection has been a recurring theme in this story.
For more information, visit Millers’ Local Bakehouse.