Baker Bleu is a must-visit for bread lovers in Melbourne/Naarm. Owners Mia and Mike Russell are deeply passionate about quality food and ingredients, and they’re committed to taking the time required to get it all just right. This careful attention to detail is evident in every bite of their exquisite bagels, challah, bread loaves and sweet treats.
Baker Bleu has been brewing Market Lane filter coffee in-store and retailing our beans since 2019. In 2023, they expanded the coffee offering at their Caulfield shop and they now also serve a full range of espresso drinks there, featuring our delicious Marimbus Espresso. We’re also lucky enough to offer Baker Bleu’s amazing sweet treats and to use their bread in mushroom burgers and sandwiches at several Market Lane locations.
Mia and Mike chatted to us about the bakers who inspired them early on, their favourite places to grab a bite in Melbourne, and how they get their bread to taste so, so good!
Market Lane Coffee: Mike, how did you first fall in love with bread and baking?
Baker Bleu: I think I first loved the concept of owning a small business. Whether it be a bar, deli etc. I started working in restaurants and hotels, which led to working in the pastry section. I also had a real obsession with pintxos and I wanted to start a pintxos bar, and this led to me wanting to bake my own bread. Then I fell down the rabbit hole of bread – wanting to bake more and read about it more. I worked for some great bakers, wanting to learn the craft. And here we are today!
Mia, was there anyone in particular who inspired you as you were getting the business up and running?
We’ve been inspired by people we’ve met both here in Australia and abroad. Bread is a craft and you have your training, but then once you start a business it becomes so much more. I think more in a business sense, but we still have the parameters of one of the world’s oldest food products. It’s all relative to the end product: how can we respect the craft and not destroy the process by making more, and making it easier for the staff? So, some bakers and businesspeople who inspired us early on were Apollonia Poilâne from Poilâne bakery, Andrew Connole from Sonoma Bakery, Igor and Ludmilla Ivanovic from Iggy’s Bread, and Paul Allam and David McGuinness from Bourke Street Bakery.
And who inspires you both today?
A range of bakers, as well as businesspeople in both baking or food backgrounds, and non-food backgrounds too. Ben Shewry is so hardworking and innovative, and honest and genuine to the core. Neil Perry has built a well-known brand and is an icon, and he’s a champion for growers and producers. Andrew McConnell is a restaurant and business owner with the ultimate aesthetic approach. And Gabby Leibovich, founder of Catch of the Day, is so hardworking and innovative.
You currently have shops in Caulfield and Hawksburn, but your first location was on Glen Eira Rd, Elsternwick. What drew you to open your first shop there?
Everything about that shop shouted yes you can! It was next to a busy café, it had all the utilities ready to go, and the size was just right for a small set-up. We wanted to be in a neighbourhood that had a European heritage, where customers would appreciate dark crusts and large format bread for sharing.
Your bread is some of the best we’ve eaten! What makes it so good, and how is your bread different from other sourdough loaves found throughout Melbourne?
Bread is quite simple, it varies from bakery to bakery, but the secret to any good sourdough is the quality of the ingredients and the process. We use high quality ingredients from local growers, and we ferment our loaves longer than most. From the moment a dough is mixed it’s almost 24 hours of proofing and fermentation until it’s baked. We control this process very carefully. Using cool humidity to accentuate the flavour, and develop the crust and the flavour.
How do you enjoy coffee at home?
Always filter! We have a Moccamaster at home. When travelling, we pack an Aeropress. Mike also loves a chilled filter coffee.
What have been some of the most special moments serving people in your shop?
It’s always humbling to meet a customer who loves the bread and perhaps has a story about one of our products that recalls a memory of a sensory experience. For example, for a customer whose grandmother used to bake a large loaf for the family every week back in the old country, warm fresh bread can bring back that sensorial experience.
Where do you go to eat, drink and hang out on your days off in Melbourne?
When near the bakery, we like to go to Goodies Takeaway Shop on Balaclava Road. We love the lunch plate at Friends of the Earth on Smith Street in Collingwood. We also love Carlton Wine Room for the snacks, and the sandwiches are great at Morning Market on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy. Spring Street Grocer is always good for gelato, and Market Lane Coffee at Prahran Market for amazing lattes!
To learn more about Market Lane’s wholesale coffee program, visit our Wholesale Coffee page.