We’ve said it before but Melbourne has become something of a hotbed of food, coffee, and wine over the years. There are so many specialty coffee shops and boutique cafes that you can find at least one in every neighborhood, and a generation of hospitality professionals who are spending lots of time working for other people before opening their own spaces. These new businesses often become even more niche and focused than the venues that spawned their owners: think niche shops focusing in and limiting their offerings, or very small venues in previously un-catered-to areas. So it’s even more surprising when a venue takes on an ambitious space, choosing to prioritize areas that the owner hasn’t necessarily specialized in.
Take, for example, Wild Life Bakery. Opened in September 2017 by Huw Murdoch, Wild Life found its home in a warehouse in the inner-north Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, with a focus on high-quality bread. Murdoch is a familiar face in Melbourne, having managed Market Lane Coffee’s Therry Street store for six years, with long stints in cafes and restaurants while studying jazz performance at Monash University. Over the years, he began baking sourdough at home and slowly realized that it far outshined the bread he could buy around his local neighborhood of Brunswick.
Sometimes when a business arises from a business owner’s hobby or passion, they tend to try and take on that role professionally, which doesn’t always work out. While Murdoch did toy with the idea of translating his love of bread into working in the bakery day-to-day, the venue he found ultimately dictated the way the business was structured. “It came down to the size of the site that I found,“ he says. “If I’d found a hole-in-the-wall to sell bread and some coffee out of, I would have thought more about trying to be the baker and to learn on the job a bit. But once I thought hard about the kind of venue it would need to be to work, I realized that I was much more qualified to run the front of house. For new businesses particularly, it’s nice for the locals to actually meet and talk with the owner, which is something that I can do out front but probably couldn’t have done out the back.”
Walking into Wild Life, one is struck by just how large the space is. It’s a huge light-filled warehouse that’s been lovingly transformed by Sarah Trotter of Hearth Studio into a beautifully compartmentalized space encompassing a well-sized kitchen, a dedicated bakery (with large circular peepholes in so that customers can view the magic), and a T-shaped island that houses the bread display and barista station. Light filters in from skylights, while tables and chairs luxuriously spread out in front of the bakery windows and kitchen pass.
Murdoch outlined his motivations for the business: “My aim was always to make a simple space that focused on sourdough bread, with the hope that eventually I’d find smaller local grain suppliers, and possibly make some positive contribution to supporting farmers growing higher-quality, less commodity-focused products.”
The menu here is (understandably) bread-focused, with a kimchi toastie on the menu from day one, whiles grains sneak their way in in non-bread form via porridges and the like. Murdoch has taken inspiration from folks like SQIRL in Los Angeles, and Tartine in San Francisco (pre-Manufactory). “Bar Tartine, and their philosophy of trying to make everything in-house, is something we think about a lot,” he adds.
These inspirations come to light in things like Wild Life’s delicious take on Tartine’s salted rye cookie recipe, or their delectable range of Viennoiseries and sweet treats, but it’s an inspiration that blends beautifully with Murdoch’s choice of a unique menu; you won’t find poached eggs on avocado toast coming out of this kitchen, but you will find one of the best gazpachos you’ll ever have (accompanied by a cheese toastie, of course).
While the bread and food are definitely a huge draw, the beverage offering is expectedly no slouch—with Market Lane Coffee being brewed either through the La Marzocco Linea or as pour-over filter coffee, and a small wine and beer offering rounding out the all-day menu with a focus on approachable minimal-intervention delights from folks like Jamsheed Winery and La Sirene Brewery (thanks to a pre-exisiting liquor license from the building’s previous tenants).
While Murdoch intends to continue to bring good bread to the Brunswick locals, his non-glutenous goals for the future are equally noble. “I just really want to run a business where everyone is treated and paid well and correctly,“ he says. “It’s kind of ridiculous that I can take any pride in paying all of my staff the award wage, but it’s still pretty rare in Australian hospitality businesses, which is sad. I’m still very much learning how to run a business, so it’s early days, but creating and maintaining a positive work environment and culture is probably my main priority.”
Eileen P. Kenny is a coffee professional, winemaker, and Sprudge Media Network contributor based in Melbourne. Read more Eileen P. Kenny on Sprudge.