Arobake, the shop fueling Wellington's carb cravings.
Wellington, New Zealand
If you live in Wellington, we can almost guarantee that you have eaten bread from Arobake. Max, founder and master baker, discusses the creativity that exists in the balance of exactness and freedom in baking.
Arobake has been a staple of the community since 1989. During our time in New Zealand, people we met told us a few consistent things about this spot. People around Wellington drive across town to the shop and get their bread directly from the source. And, when a cafe has Arobake pastries, you know its high quality. Treats from this spot set the bar high in a city where cafes and coffee rule.
We were excited to learn about the story behind the iconic bakery from Master-baker and founder, Max Fuhrer. Early on a Tuesday morning, we walked down to Aro Valley, not far from the famous Holloway Road and into the unassuming bakery. Sitting on the patio with a cappuccino and pastry in front of each of us, we spent the morning chatting casually about Max's interest in baking, his training, and the inspiration he finds from the constraints of a recipe.
When Arobake got started in 1989, just across the street from where the bakery is today, there "was no branding ... we had these self serve cabinets that we taped closed because we didn't want people to self serve." He seemed almost shocked by the success but despite what may it looked like from the outside, word got out, and the product sold itself.
Max, born and raised in New Zealand, grew up enjoying the traditional cooking of his German mother and Swiss father. Family continues to be is very important to Max. A father to six, he lives right behind the bakery so that he can scoot back for lunch to visit with his younger kids. The older kids have all spend time working at the bakery and one of his sons now looks after the day bakery.
As a kid himself, at 13, Max and his family travelled to Europe. He remembers that it was there that he first got the idea to be a baker. Yes, at just 13 years old, he knew his calling. After high school, he started an apprenticeship with a baker in Johnsonville, further igniting his passion. After completing his hours, he studied at a trade school in Zurich and credits the time he spend there for his work ethic and attention to detail.
Max’s relaxed New Zealand training, mixed with the discipline he acquired in Switzerland seem to be a powerful combination. The delicate balance of exactness and constraints fuels the creativity in his baking.
"One leads to another. If you're in a regimented thing and everything is organized, it frees you up to be creative … it's like scales musicians do. I know the basic formula for a loaf of break: X amount of water and X amount of flour, but then you can add different things to it or you can change the fermentation process to enhance the flavor. You have those basics and you can quite easily write a bread recipe. I just made a bread with chocolate and brandy fig. It's quite crazy, when you toast it, the smell! We’re always trying to do different things."
While experimentation is important, he also made sure to clarify the importance of consistency, particularly in bread-making. “For the bakers, we expect it to be done one way. So we sell to cafes and bakeries around the city, so consistency is key." One of the challenges came as the bakery grew and he had to hire more staff. "Letting things go was hard at the beginning, but you're better off investing in people." Today, Max feels more "like a businessman now," and spend much of his time mentoring his team.
Now, if you haven’t already, go grab a cup of coffee and a pastry from this divine mecca of carbs.