Thirteen years ago childhood mates Jack Mitri and Demi Sclavos stumbled upon an artisan bakery in the Blue Mountains, NSW where they met Michael Shepard. Three guys. Three different walks of life. One vison. To create and bake authentic quality artisan food. yum. Gluten Free gets the original story and more from Shepherd’s Artisan Bakehouse co-founder Jack Mitri.
yum. Gluten Free: Jack Mitri, how do 2 childhood friends turned accountants end up leaving it all behind to start a bakery?
When Demi and I stumbled upon an old world bakery in the Blue Mountains we were completely captivated by the vast array of handcrafted specialty bread, enticing aroma and the integral use of raw ingredients to inspire the taste and texture of artisan baked food. This is where we met head baker Michael Shepherd and a lifetime friendship was forged.
ygf: Wow, and just like that Shepherd’s Artisan Bakehouse was formed?
Yeah! Shepherd’s Artisan Bakehouse started with a rickety old truck, a shoebox sized bakery based in Blaxland, Blue Mountains and a zany sense of humour which kept us smiling through some wicked hours. The rest? The rest… is living the dream.
ygf: Sounds like it. So tell us a little about your product. What do you guys do?
We simply bake beautiful food. Across our Shepherd’s Artisan Bakehouse Gluten Free, Sourdough and Pastry ranges, we use premium, seasonal ingredients and focus on providing the highest quality food, which represents the best value for our customers. We aren’t food snobs, and we firmly believe artisan quality bread should be available to everyone, not just those in the inner city with high disposable incomes! Our unifying philosophy of “Farm. Oven. Plate.” demonstrates our values of keeping things as simple as possible, supporting local farmers and always using the freshest ingredients we can get our hands on.
ygf: Was creating a gluten free line part of the original mission, or did that come later?
As with a lot of our inspiration, this came from our farmer’s market regulars. So many people came up in the early days and looked longingly at our handmade bread, before explaining they couldn’t buy anything as they were coeliac, or otherwise unable to eat gluten. This inspired us to create a small range of GF breads, and it went from there. Now over 20% of our range is GF, with new products being added every few months.
ygf: Twenty percent, that’s awesome! Is that all bread?
Shepherd’s Artisan Bakehouse GF products fall under 2 categories – breads and sweets. We pride ourselves on baking the BEST gluten free bread in Australia. The texture is almost identical to regular yeasted bread, and the crust is glossy and perfect. It can be toasted, pressed in a sandwich press, blitzed to make crumbs and so on.
We also offer a range of GF sweet treats, which put a smile on a lot of gluten intolerant people’s faces. From biscuit-bottomed slices, to fudge brownies, to the most moist and delicious GF banana breads and muffins, our entire GF range is so good, people who have no problem with gluten regularly buy it too!
ygf: You had me at “fudge brownies.” Where can we get some?
Shepherd’s Artisan Bakehouse has stalls at close to twenty different farmers markets across NSW – some are weekly, some less often – and all are listed on our website. We also have 2 stores (at Castle Towers and Westfield Eastgardens). Finally, many cafes across NSW use Shepherd’s bread to create their fabulous burgers, toasties and more!
ygf: Speaking of your GF customers, how do you take care to ensure your products are truly gluten free?
Our gluten free food is prepared in our Sydney bakehouse, entirely by hand and using locally sourced and natural ingredients, where possible. We do bake products containing gluten in the same environment – however we bake GF products on separate shifts, and do everything possible in between to ensure no cross-contamination occurs.
Surfaces, machines and utensils are meticulously cleaned at high temperatures, and different utensils, trays and tins are used for our GF products all together. At the service end, the staff of our market stalls and two stores are reminded to keep GF and regular products separate, and to use different utensils to select them.
We’re confident that this attention-to-detail eliminates almost all of the opportunity for any gluten-containing ingredients to make their way into our GF food. However, we can never be 100% sure so if you’re extremely sensitive, we advise against consuming our products just in case.
ygf: So what keeps you going? What’s the best part about the job?
Too many things to mention! The food, for starters – we get to taste test a lot, and that’s hard to beat. The camaraderie of the bakers at 4am, joking as they throw the dough around. The look of joy on a customer’s face when they hold a warm loaf of bread in their arms, or bite into one of our delicious gluten free sweets for the first time and are blown away by how GOOD it actually tastes!
ygf: So much love seems to go into every product! Now for a few quick questions… What’s your favorite food?
Anything my wife cooks. How’s that for brownie points? Honestly, nothing beats a Mediterranean style BBQ with fresh seasonal salad and a cold beer… God, I love summer!
ygf: One word that sums you up?
One of my team describes me as “abnormally cheerful.” I’ve been described as “Zany.” But I prefer “Charming”… or “Hot!” Hang on, did you say one word?
ygf: Words to live by?
“Lots of little make little lots.”
ygf: So what’s next for Shepherd’s? Working on anything new?
We’d love to set up the ultimate bakery café with plenty of fantastic GF products. We’ve got several new GF products in the pipeline, both sweet and savoury. All will be revealed in due course!
ygf: The anticipation is killing us! Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
As a team, we believe that improving the nutritional quality of everyday products like bread can have huge impact on our customer’s diets, because it allows those with busy lives the opportunity to pack more nutrients into their diets without dramatically changing their lifestyle. For example, our new chia and teff GF bread.
Bread is something many Australian’s eat 2 or 3 times a day, so simply by adding these supergrains (both of which offer an incredible range of health benefits) into our bread, our customers can know they’ve increased their fibre or their calcium intake with no extra time, effort or expense.
ygf: Improving health without losing convenience, I like it. So how do our readers stay in touch with you?
Please see us at one of our many farmers markets or retails outlets and join our mailing list at shepherds.com.au! We love feedback so we cannot wait to hear what you think of Shepherd’s Artisan Bakehouse!