After two years, things are starting to return to normal for Cremorne resident Justine Curtis and her sister Michelle Blyth.
With the lifting of most of the coronavirus restrictions and the return to offices, the sisters' business, Cremorne St Bakers, is looking lively with cafes calling every day and retail customers back.
"Over the past two years we've had to diversify a lot more and just work really hard," Blyth says. "But I feel like life's opening up again."
During the pandemic the business moved into savoury food, ISO boxes and high-end gift hampers.
"We were lucky we were among the people who could deliver things, including birthday cakes," says Blyth, whose business philosophy is underpinned by a belief in kindness and good karma. "It was really nice to be able to do that."
Motivated by the childhood joy of licking the bowl, Blyth launched a career in baking with a wholesale cake business in her native New Zealand after finishing uni.
Nine years later, in 2000, she moved to Australia "for love" and was joined here two years later by Curtis, who had been living in Tokyo before returning to New Zealand to find the average rate of pay was $12 an hour.
The following year the pair set up deli cafe Replete Providore in Barkers Rd, Hawthorn. "Replete was a ripper business that was ahead of its time; it was a full-on phenomenon," Blyth says, sharing the endorsement she once received from Pellegrini's Sisto Malaspina, who told her people would queue for more than an hour to get in.
Replete lasted eight years, after which Blyth moved to Sydney while Curtis started her family, but a couple of years later the sisters again felt the creative urge and opened up The Counter, in Auburn Rd.
Despite the strong success of both businesses, the saturation of the cafe industry prompted the sisters to change course. "We thought, OK, we do really good baked goods," Blyth says. "So let's create something we can supply to the cafes."
Five and a half years on, Cremorne St Bakery's hand-baked, "rustic" goods have been picked up locally, and from Mornington to Geelong, by cafes, independent grocers and Coles Local stores, while from its small shopfront the business retails cakes.
The sisters have a staff of around 20, who are key to the operation, and contribute to its constant product-development and innovation.
The team is currently working on a "posh jaffa cake", vegan pecan pie slice, and plum and white chocolate crumble muffin for autumn. "They're little piles of joy when you look at them," Blyth says. "It's really a happy product to trade in."
They're little piles of joy when you look at them. It's really a happy product to trade in- Michelle Blyth