Baking waves in the heart of Sydney
When Shady Wasef decided he wanted to make the move from fine dining chef to baker and cafe-owner, one of the major selling points he offered to his wife and business partner Rose was that he would no longer be working long hours. But their bakery in Sydney’s Pyrmont, PiOiK, has become so successful, the pair now “work around the clock”.
“I guess I shot myself in the foot with that one,” Wasef says. “The only time that the bakery shuts down totally is from Sunday 2pm until Monday 2pm.”
Each day, PiOiK’s bakers start at three in the afternoon, finishing at midnight. The pastry chefs start at midnight and finish at seven or eight in the morning, and the cook and kitchenhand start at four in the morning and finish at one in the afternoon.
Wasef and his wife opened PiOiK in 2014. “Pioik” (pronounced “pee-oyk”) means “bread” in Coptic Egyptian, and the name reflects Wasef and his wife’s shared Egyptian heritage. Since arriving in Australia from Egypt in 1998, Wasef has cooked in some of NSW’s best restaurants, including Osteria Balla Manfredi and Bells at Killcare. He also trained as a pastry chef, spending time in Italy working with one of the country’s best bakers, Mauro Scaglia.
Quality takes time
PiOiK makes bread the traditional way, with the bakery’s sourdough loaves taking four days from starter and cold mixing to baking “nice and high” so that the bread turns out a beautiful dark colour, with a chewy crust. When Wasef first started baking bread and pastries, the plan was simply to sell great bread and sweets to locals, but the quality of PiOiK’s produce is so good, its bread is now used in some of Sydney’s top restaurants.
“Originally, we didn’t want to do wholesale,” Wasef admits. “We just wanted to open the doors and sell our baked goods. When we first started making bread, it was only in small batches, about 12 to 16 loaves a day. But now we have about 20 restaurants we supply. We like to use smaller accounts and very selective restaurants, and they’ve all become friends.”
PiOiK’s baked goods use predominantly Australian organic ingredients, with the business only importing ingredients that can’t be sourced here, such as a special sugar that’s used to make the bakery’s panettoni. The bakery also only uses fruit that’s in season.
“We never use fruit from a can,” Wasef says. “We poach our own pears; for our Christmas mince pies we ferment and preserve the fruit a year before. For our hot cross buns, we soak the fruit in Earl Grey tea for a day before we use it, then to make it unique, we use an aromatic Baharat spice blend that complements the Earl Grey-soaked fruit.”
While the sweets might be to die for, a customer favourite is the Epooro – meaning “the King” in Coptic Egyptian. This wholewheat and rye loaf weighs in at an impressive two kilos.
Staying put in Pyrmont
While Wasef and his wife might not be knocking off early each day like they first envisaged, the ongoing success of the bakery and their passion for selling quality bread and pastries made from scratch mean that PiOiK is where they plan to stay.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Wasef says. “Sure, it’s hard work. But we’ve been so lucky. When restaurants shut down due to COVID, the locals really came out and supported us.”
And although PiOiK has been an undoubted success, Wasef is adamant that they will not expand their operations beyond their small, family-run bakery.
“Absolutely not,” he says firmly. “We want to focus on our products, and on quality rather than quantity. Every year, we get approached at least once or twice to branch out and open another bakery. But we definitely made the decision from day one that there will be one and only one PiOiK. We want to stay where we are.”
Sydneysiders and visitors to Pyrmont can get their hands on “the King” and PiOiK’s other goodies at 176-178 Harris Street, Pyrmont. For more info, head to pioikbakery.com.au