Hobz Bakery opens in Leith: we speak to the owner about swapping academia for bread
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There’s been a new baker, Hobz, slowly proofing on Leith Walk for the last couple of months.
Its young owner, Matthew Mallia, 25, shares his plans for his business.
Tell us more
I’m Maltese, but I’ve been living in the UK for about five years. I moved to Oxford to do a Masters in British Imperial History and to Edinburgh to read for a PhD. I’ve always loved baking, and have fond memories of doing so with my mum, and I always had this dream of opening a bakery/cafe. I gave that up when I pursued academia, but fell back into baking when the academic ambition turned sour and impacted my mental health quite negatively. I baked my first naturally-leavened sourdough loaf in my studio flat in Edinburgh, after having read Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread. The first loaf was utterly horrible, but I soon became obsessed. I dreamt up Hobz - which means ‘bread’ in Maltese - during lockdown, and launched the business in January 2021. I started by taking orders from locals, but soon moved to the Leith Walk Police Box. I’m proud to say that we still have loyal customers who ordered on the very first day I launched the business. My partner in life, Julianna loves Hobz as much as I do and will be head of coffee at the bakery.
Our experience at the Leith Walk Police Box acted as a testing ground, and we felt immediately welcomed by the community. The opportunity to take over 106 Leith Walk, as part of the Red Sandstone development, came along in early 2022, and we committed almost immediately. There were delays, so instead of getting the keys in May we had to wait till September. I used that time to develop what I wanted Hobz to be, and interned at the world famous Hart Bageri in Copenhagen for three weeks.
Leith has become a haven for good artisan produce and there are so many amazing bakers, like The Pastry Section and Babyfaced Baker, as well as other cool indies opening soon in the same development.
Any signature bakes?
The key draw will be quality and simplicity. I have no intention to invent the next ‘cruffin’ or ‘cronut’ (though that would be quite cool, it’s not my focus). We’ll just do things better, and help build/strengthen the local grain economy. The current trend is to focus on freshly milled whole grains, in both bread and pastries, though baking with more refined and stronger white flour is much easier. British wheat isn’t the best for making long-fermented bread, so it’s a careful balancing game. Lots of other bakeries outside Edinburgh are pioneering a British artisan system of baking, and we aim to follow. Having said that, we have been testing new products and will hopefully release them gradually. I love experimenting with laminated dough (Viennoiserie). We’ll also have massive, interesting sandwiches..
Tell us about the open plan bakery concept
We took down the window vinyls the other day, and I immediately felt very exposed. I thought, ‘why would I, a socially anxious introvert, want to be out in the open?’. But I think I’ll end up loving it. Bakers are usually working in an industrial unit off site, or in basements - the popular view is of nocturnal men all in white. But I’ve seen lots of bakeries around the world adapt to giving bakers a real life. I can guarantee there will never be night shifts, which most of us hate with a vengeance. Bread and pastries will be baked all morning, probably up until the afternoon, so people can experience the freshest bread possible. They can see their loaf come out of the oven and, once at a safe temperature, have it handed to them. People don’t realise how much horrible stuff can be hidden when a kitchen or bakery isn’t open to the public eye.
Are you worried about the cost of living?
I don’t think any business owner in the UK isn’t having sleepless nights. Running a bakery is incredibly expensive. Before the latest energy cap, I was looking at having to pay around £50,000 a year on electricity. Then there’s the other overheads. I also committed to paying the team above the current real living wage. Thankfully I’m opening the business when there is a six month window of help, but what happens after that? We’re hoping for the best. I’ve made it a point not to pass on costs to customers, but that’s difficult when I just received a notice of price increase for all my flour. Some might balk at the idea of paying £4 for a loaf, when they can buy industrially produced sliced bread for £1 at the supermarket. But the former is an artisan product, made with the best ingredients, while the latter isn’t actually bread, can cause gluten intolerance, and is simply not good.
I think Hobz will ride out the storm; quality and love will always win.
What will the interior look like?
It's a takeaway, but with three window seats. I initially went to commercial interior designers Splintr - who have been amazing - with a simple Scandi aesthetic brief. I knew I wanted green tiles somewhere, and to incorporate the original brick wall. I sketched the layout to include a wide bench running down the centre with a partition; bakers on one side, customers sitting on the other. I was inspired by the amazing Proof Bakery in Arizona, US. This would have been incredible, but when Splintr put everything to scale on their CAD software, it was impossible. Nevertheless, what we’ve created is functional, incredibly aesthetic, and completely open. There’s two main displays for bread and pastries as you enter. Seeing it all come together has truly been emotional.