Friday, June 1, 2018

Talking Tamworth: Claudia Byrnes from Sonny's Bakery

I love a good loaf of sourdough and a cracker almond croissant. And just last month I was lucky enough to catch up with Claudia Byrnes just before the opening of Sonny's Bakery . Claudia is a partner in Sonny's, and Tamworth Area Manager at Harvest Hospitality Group, who first entered the Tamworth dining scene with The Pig and Tinder Box.

You can read all about Sonny's Bakery Cafe in the upcoming Downtown Magazine, but I was so moved by Claudia's passion for what she is doing that I followed up with a Q&A.
Photo: Supplied

Claudia Monique
Harvest Hospitality – Tamworth Area Manager
Sonny’s Bakery – Owner

Where did you grow up?
I’m born and bred in Tamworth

Looking back, did you love it? If so why?
I remember my friends and I always longing for adventure and the city life, so I don’t feel I appreciated the town as much as I should have through my schooling years. But this is where my family is, where the love is, and so it’s home.

Where else have you lived before moving to/coming back to Tamworth?
I resided in The Gold Coast for about four years. After completing my higher school education in Tamworth at Oxley High School, I headed north and studied a Bachelor of Communications at Griffith University.

What do you love about Tamworth?
The first time I was asked this question it caught me off guard and I struggled to answer, since then I’ve made a conscience effort to recognise a few of my favourite things about Tamworth.  My mum often reminds me how beautiful the main street of Tamworth is – Peel St, we chat of the Peel river that runs through the town and also the hills of Tamworth creating a stunning backdrop in the East. Venturing into a career here a few years ago, and still residing here currently, what I truly love is watching this town grow with some incredibly talented and creative people in many different fields making Tamworth more and more culturally appetising.

How long have you worked in hospitality?
I got a job working in the hospitality industry 2012 with the intention, like so many, of working to save and move overseas. I got my first job with family friends who own The Pub Group here in Tamworth. I started at the bottom picking up glasses, and continued learning a solid foundation of front of house in the hospitality industry for about two years. I did head overseas for a stint, and worked in a few different places when I ventured back to Tamworth. I picked up little things here and there, but at the time was really struggling to gain job satisfaction. I was enjoying the industry, but craved something more that really wasn’t on offer in Tamworth at the time; this was about three years ago. I had near given up and was about to move to Sydney when two gents rolled into town and were setting up a new restaurant bar, revamping the historic bank building at 429 Peel Street in the heart of the town, to be called ‘The Pig & Tinder Box’. I met with them casually on the dusty worksite, a couple of questions and few laughs exchanged. I left thinking wow, these guys are something else, they were young, vibrant, passionate and so motivated in what they do. I got the call back later that day to join a small management team in training for what we locals now affectionately call ‘The Pig’. And now I’m their Area Manager for their Tamworth venues including The Courthouse Hotel and The Albert Hotel.

What do you love about the industry?
The office life is not for me, so I love that we are continually on foot. Aside from a love of food, ‘hospitality’ is really just that, it’s about hosting and creating a space and atmosphere where people can come together and have a great time. Bringing people together is something I really love doing!

Tell me a little bit about Sonny’s Bakery?
Sonny’s is a bakery café. We’ve wanted to create a space and offering that’s a combination of nostalgic goodies with a city chic edge. You can grab a glass bottle of coke from the fridge, and pair it with a Sonny’s Sausage Roll or Beef & Burgundy Pie, both using local beef from our mates at Ford’s Butchery. We’ve got a bakery onsite, our bakers are busy working throughout the evening to produce fresh bread and pastries for us daily. We’re stoked to be using topnotch quality flour from Wholegrain Milling Co in Gunnedah. Our kitchen is cooking breakie 7 days a week from 6am. And coffee… we’ve got some mates who started a coffee company called Will&Co in Sydney, so we’ve brought that to Tamworth and it’s being really well received!

You’re a partner in the business, who else owns it?
Yes, myself, Rod McDonald, Christopher Cornforth and Fraser Haughton

When and how did the idea start?
We would often say how there was a gap in the market for a good bakery café in Tamworth. I know myself as soon as I head to a city; a bakery café is one of the first places I seek out, chasing a ham and cheese croissant and good coffee. Mid last year, the shop front became vacant right next door to The Pig & Tinder Box. Many moons ago being a butcher shop it already had a cool room down the back so it seemed a no brainer that we should jump on the space. From there it was a long process getting our ducks in a row, none of us had had anything to do with baking bread before haha but here we are!

What does it mean to you to be working with Harvest Group and to have a slice of your very own business?
The best thing about my time working with Harvest Hospitality has been the mentorship I’ve received from both Chris and Fraser. No matter what field you’re in, I believe finding someone to mentor you is so vital, also really tricky to come by. Now mentoring those under me, I realize how much time and energy it takes to believe in someone and pass on your wisdom. For their time, I will be forever grateful and for their trust and encouragement leading to the ultimate - going into business with together. It’s pretty incredible! I’m still pinching myself.

Sonny’s is offering Artisan Sourdough bread, sweet and savoury pastries, salads and sandwiches, a breakfast menu and amazing coffee from Will&Co. What have I missed there?
I think you’ve covered it all! Haha We’ve got a range of breads aside from Sourdough, there’s a simple white loaf, a wholemeal loaf, a rye loaf and a seeded loaf PLUS baguettes and bread rolls. Oh and we do a low Gluten loaf as well

Tell me about the sweet treats that your head baker David Mansart whips up?
Here we go… chocolate croissants, almond croissants and we serve plain croissants with a local jam from Little Kickerbell. We’ve got delicious muffins – blueberry dark choc and oats, and raspberry white choc and coconut. It’s been a bit of a crazy start, so when the bakers have time, you’ll start to see an endless range of tarts! Strawberry tarts, Chocolate tarts, Lemon meringue tarts, Pear tarts, Apricot Tarts, and the list goes on…

What is your favorite Sonny’s product?
Too many! I’m loving the Pork & Fennel sausage roll, and Strawberry tarts!

Like all in the hospitality industry you’ve worked pretty hard to get Sonny’s up, and it’s not slowing down. What do you love to do in your down time?

Haha yes I tend to work a lot, but when I take a breather I enjoy zoning out at a quiet café having a coffee with friends or a sneaky glass of vino. I love spending time with my fiancé Jack Massey, if we can escape we enjoy hiking, but when at home we spend time with our chocolate Labrador – Hugo. Should probably get cracking on planning our wedding also!

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