How does a sourdough hobby in a suburban garage become a cult micro bakery attracting long queues of hungry customers to every bake?
Wendy Hargreaves asks Maaryasha Werdiger, the powerhouse behind Zelda Bakery in Melbourne’s Ripponlea.
Self-taught sourdough baker Maaryasha Werdiger says her underground bakery’s runaway success comes down to two simple concepts – generosity and a big dose of nostalgia.
“I was raised here in Melbourne in an Orthodox family, but I never set out to open a Jewish bakery,” says Maaryasha, a paediatric physiotherapist who became obsessed with perfecting sourdough while on maternity leave.
“I’ve always enjoyed feeding people wholesome food… seeing the smiles on their faces. Food is such an important part of my life. As a proud Australian Jew, I was raised with strong traditions, but I was also raised in Melbourne, so I’m merge of cultures… and my food reflects that.
“There’s a real sense of nostalgia in Jewish food, and Zelda lets me share these some of these stories with the wider community.”
And Melburnians can’t get enough of Maaryasha’s handmade loaves and pastries.
When she started baking for family and friends in her makeshift garage kitchen, news travelled fast. Melbourne’s Jewish community had its first kosher sourdough baker.
In-the-know locals pre-ordered their bread and lined up at Maaryasha’s garage door. Hundreds joined her regular sourdough masterclasses in the garage, learning how to care for a starter and bake at home.
As the underground kosher sourdough movement grew, business started encroaching on the family home, where Maaryasha lives with her husband Shaya Rubinstein and their three sons, aged 12, 9 and 6.
“It was crazy as soon as I opened in the garage,” Maaryasha recalls.
“We’d sell out really fast, all through word of mouth, and as the bakery grew, it started taking over rooms in the house. We knew something had to change.”
Maaryasha Werdiger in Zelda BakeryMaaryasha opened Zelda Bakery on the Glen Eira Rd shopping strip in February 2021 – right in the middle of Melbourne’s pandemic lockdowns. Queues of locals snaked up the block from the first day of trade and it’s been the same since.
“In many ways, I was lucky with the timing,” Maaryasha says.
“Every time they announced a lockdown, people just wanted to eat pastry. This meant I was very busy working with my hands… and distracted from a lot of the bad stuff.
“But I have to admit, sometimes it feels surreal to see people queueing and being so supportive.
“I’m passionate about providing good food to my local community and the response has been incredible. It encourages us every day to push further and try harder.”
Zelda opens on Wednesdays and Fridays, selling exceptional sourdough bread and a selection of sweet and savoury treats including chocolate babka, apple hand pies, olive twists, cheese danishes, halva and walnut escargots and deliciously toasty sesame rings. Less traditional treats might include choc chip walnut cookies or ANZAC biscuits.
All of Maaryasha’s handmade loaves and pastries have the highest kosher certification, made using traditional methods and baked in a stone oven. Regular customers know to pre-order their baked goods online to avoid disappointment at the end of the queue.
Maaryasha will share tips on baking some her favourite traditional Jewish food at Fine Food Australia’s new Artisan Bakery demonstration kitchen at Melbourne’s Convention and Exhibition Centre on 6 September.
“The food I will be making is my version of Jewish immigrant food, which evolved as Jews left Europe during the difficult times,” Maaryasha explains.
“I’ll be making traditional boiled bagels, which I love. I don’t have the room to make them at Zelda just yet, but I’m hoping to change that soon, as proper boiled bagels are amazing. Most of the bagels we get in Melbourne are steamed, and it’s not the same. It’s fiddly to boil them, but it’s worth the effort.
“I’ll also be doing rugelach and knishes (pictured). It’ll be fun.”
Register free here to watch Maaryasha share her passions at Fine Food Australia.