Arún Bakery is the ultimate success story of the Stoneybatter food revolution. Ex-fraud squad member Peter Flynn and Czech artisanal master-baker Vlad Rainis are now confidently taking in more bread orders than they had ever imagined they would be able to handle. Vlad has been working on the project since late 2011; Peter joined in the summer of 2012. Though times were tough, the pair decided to take a chance and set up shop in Stoneybatter. While Vlad spends his days kneading bread, developing recipes, and giving master classes in the art, Peter takes care of the business side of things. We spoke to Arún Bakery about how it began, their food philosophy, and their future plans.
Words: Maria Hagan // firstname.lastname@example.org
Images: Al Higgins
Location and the local community have been crucial to Arún Bakery’s success. Peter explains that they were drawn to Stoneybatter ‘because it was the cheap end of town.’ Far from setting them back however, the location for the bakery helped them to find their feet. They were not the only ones to jump at the cheap rents: ‘creative people are bright,’ Peter points out, ‘but often they are also poor.’ As a result, a community of young entrepreneurs started to gather in Stoneybatter. They helped each other out as they struggled – and then as they prospered. Vlad likens the area to a village where everybody knows everybody else: ‘our trade has grown throughout the city based on quality and word of mouth.’
So what is it that is so special about Peter and Vlad’s bread? you might ask. Well, it’s simple – they exclusively produce sourdough loaves, proved for up to 18 hours. For Arún Bakery, you shouldn’t just occasionally be treating yourself to a loaf of wholesome sourdough, it should be a part of your everyday life. As Peter puts it, ‘sourdough had been niched as high-end, an expensive item. We want to produce a generic sourdough, to compete with the usual white sliced pan and help people change their habits to eating real food, real bread.’
Vlad and Peter adopt a no-frills approach to selling their product, which allows them to put their money towards quality flour and staffing. They are lucky in that their product doesn’t need clever packaging or advertising to do well – the health benefits of sourdough speak for themselves. Once you start eating sourdough, you realise what bread should taste like and begin to question the ingredients in regular white sliced bread, asking yourself, ‘why is that so white? It’s bleach! Should I really be eating that?’ The easily-digestible nutritious sourdoughs make industrial breads seem a poor imitation of the real thing. Vlad and Peter have even worked with a nutritionist to perfect their wheat-free ryes and spelts. Vlad explains that they would like to see sourdough sold not just in specialised shops but in local shops as well.
It is not just good business tactics that has led Arún Bakery to success, but also a change in Dubliners’ general attitude towards food and baking. Even TV has descended on sandwich culture and the bread industry. Ultimately, over the past few years, people have become more aware of what they are eating, and started to engage with quality over quantity and affordability. As Vlad explains, ‘people stop now and think – what flavour, what size, what colour, what type of bread do they want? It has become an important part of the sandwich that people are now free to choose for themselves.’
It is at the weekly Honest2Goodness market in Dublin 11 that the extent of Arún Bakery’s success is most visible: every Saturday without fail, huge queues of excited, bread-loving customers form. The pair can’t believe it, explaining that they sell as much bread at the market as they would in seven days if they had their own shop: ‘at first, if we sold 20 to 40 loaves on a market day we’d be lucky. We sell four van loads now. The market starts at half past 9 – we start delivering at half past 6 to be able to cater to that demand.’ The quality of the bread and the couple’s friendly attitude just keeps the customers coming.
Most admirable are Arún Bakery’s ethics. Skeptical of additives, most of their products have a natural shelf-life. Peter and Vlad are also keen to preserve traditional bread-making techniques. Peter explains, ‘we emulate an Irish soda by combining spelt with buttermilk. The Irish tradition of using buttermilk for bread isn’t lost in sourdough. It is unique because it fed people what was available around them. It’s important to remember and honour that.’ However, the high buttermilk cream content is a craft that has begun to disappear as farmers have started to sell into creameries with set quotas. ‘For them to maintain the cream content that we need within the buttermilk, they have pull out of that system. Some brave farmers are starting to do it, but we went without it for ages because we wouldn’t do buttermilk bread until the right cream content was available.’
When high-end restaurants started to introduce sourdough as their staple bread, they set the ball rolling. Vlad and Peter knew that they were on to something. Vlad has begun to offer classes for chefs wanting to learn the craft of sourdough and introduce it to their restaurant bread range. Vlad gives chefs the opportunity to learn the full whack of the craft. He has perfected 15 strands of bread – one for every year that he has been baking. The general public too has expressed a renewed interest in bread-making. It has become so much more than just the golden loaf end product – it’s all about the process and where the ingredients are coming from.
Collaboration has been crucial to Vlad and Peter’s success, and is a virtue that they mention with gratitude. With no budget for advertising or promotion, collaboration has put Arún Bakery on the map in more ways than one. Most obviously in terms of exchanges with food outlets, but also in a number of other ways. For example, an artist-photographer recently documented the workings of the bakery from the inside for an exhibition, a young designer seeking experience offered to create their logo, and a friend in PR provided them with crucial marketing advice. When it comes to recipes too, each of Arún Bakery’s team of bakers bring their own personal touches to the products. Vlad comments, ‘at the end of the day, we decide which breads to offer our customers – but after that, it’s the customers themselves that decide what goes – and what doesn’t.’
Although tempting investment offers have been made, Peter and Vlad are eager to develop and strengthen Arún Bakery on their own, to maintain their local, artisanal charm and guarantee long-term viability. Peter is skeptical of the Irish food industry, remarking that ‘in Ireland it has had a dreadful footpath. In for the quick-buck, bang, gone. You don’t have any legacy restaurants. We want to establish something sustainable, to still be working at it in our 80s if we want to be’. They have great plans for the future, intending to launch their new pâtisserie range, and to develop the teaching side of their business by opening a school in a section of the bakery that is currently empty, and just waiting for hands to hit the dough.