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Schwob's Swiss Bakery

Updated: Mar 7, 2020

Doesn't that bread look gorgeous.? And perhaps it is, but I don't think you can buy it like that anymore. What you have to buy is this:

You can buy it in Coles for $5.20 but not in Woolworths anymore. You can also buy it in Leo's, which I visited today, but they only had one loaf left. I think it cost about the same as the Coles one. So, I suppose, a relatively modest price for 'artisan' bread.

When I said the other day that I would do something on Schwob's bread I thought it would be a slightly different story to the one I am offering here. I thought it would be one of those rags to riches immigrant stories and it sort of is. There are few tantalising things to which I have not found an answer, but here goes.

Schwob's bread was one of the very first 'real' kind of breads in Melbourne. I remember we used to travel to Prahran, I think, to buy some in the original bakery in Chapel Street, and later from the Queen Vic Market. Many years later I used to buy my lunchtime sandwiches from their sandwich bar in Lonsdale Street, when I worked almost next door briefly. I certainly remember seeking out the bread anyway, even if I can't quite remember where I got it.

As I was back in Kew today I ventured into Leo's - just to take some photos and to check out the price, but found only that one lone loaf. I had also intended to buy a loaf if (a) it wasn't ridiculously priced, and (b) it was not sliced. But alas the last remaining loaf was sliced - like the Coles one. And indeed in Leo's there were at least another dozen 'artisan' bakers' bread and it was virtually all sliced and wrapped in a plastic bag - so no longer crunchy and tempting looking. Most of it looked like any old mass produced bread you can buy anywhere. But even so some of it cost over $10.00 for a not very big or appetising looking loaf.

I sort of understand why people like sliced bread. If you are making sandwiches every day for several people then it's very convenient, but there's something about sliced bread that speaks factory and mass produced to me. It certainly doesn't say 'artisan'. Unless you buy it in an artisan shop unsliced and then get them to slice it.

But back to the origins of Schwob's Swiss Bakery - to give it it's official title.

In Zurich, Switzerland in 1915, Emil Schwob (the one on the right) was given the choice of the being an electrician or a baker.

"He chose baking, not because he was thrilled at the prospect of becoming a baker, but because he thought it would be warm in winter!" Schwob's Swiss Bakery website

And he grew to love baking. In 1951 he took the step of emigrating to Australia with his family and a few years later, in 1954 opened a cake shop in Prahran. Nobody at that time was interested in 'artisan' bread. Or so he thought. However, after the 1956 Olympics several European chefs who had catered to the European teams decided to stay on in Australia, and one of them, who was the chef at Maxim's asked Emil to make bread sticks. Which led to bread being sold in his shop. Word spread and the rest is sort of history.

The mantle passed to Emil's son Hans in 1972 who took the company into large-scale manufacturing rather than being a smallish business supplying restaurants and a prosperous clientèle. It was probably he who started the sandwich shops too, although this may have been his son-in-law Darren who took over in 2005. And that is where the story ends on the company website. With Darren in charge.

However, I found a linkedin posting for Darren's wife Elena - daughter of Hans - which described her as ex-owner of Schwob's Swiss Bakery. But I can find nothing to tell me why she is the ex-owner. Are she and her husband divorced, or have they sold the company? You can also find the name of one John Inman who is described as Director and also as the Sales and Marketing Director. Well indeed that is probably correct - after all the Sales and Marketing people are the ones who usually make any public statements.

The other thing that came up as I researched was that in 2017 The George Institute for Global Health released the results of a study they had made over seven years and thousands of different bread products, on the salt content of every bread. And who came out as the top culprit? Schwob's Swiss Bakery - and specifically the dark rye loaf, although several others featured in the top ten. That dark rye loaf has an alarming 1.2g of salt in each slice. More than potato chips.

And they weren't alone. There were several other so-called healthy breads in the too high in salt category.

Now I don't know if this had any effect on sales. As I noted at the top of the page, Woolworths no longer seems to stock Schwob's bread. Although of course, there could be any number of reasons for this. Did sales plummet? Did it cause Elena to walk away? Was the company sold? I really don't know.

And what about the sandwich shops? Well they still seem to exist here and there, but I think they are franchises. The one in Lonsdale Street seems to have reopened. It had to close down when they built one of the tower blocks there.

I wonder if they have revised how much salt is in their bread? In one of the articles about this salt report - there were several - I found this, which is also interesting.

“The message mustn’t be ‘avoid bread’, because bread is a staple and it provides fibre, and it also provides folic acid and iodine, which has to be added to the salt used in bread, by law, so particularly for children bread actually provides a fair amount of iodine that they require each day.” Karen Charlton - University of Wollongong

I think I mentioned that the Laurent bread had folic acid in it, and I did wonder why at the time. Now I know.

Maybe Schwob's should repackage their bread, having, of course, reduced their salt content. I assume they adapted over the years, first to the hot bread shops such as Brumby's and Baker's Delight, and now the in-shop bakeries of the big supermarkets and their 'artisan' breads from prestigious sources such as Laurent and Irrawarra. They also now have to compete with all those small 'artisan' shops - there was one opposite Leo's called The Wood Frog. I didn't go inside but it looked like their loaves were around $6.00 a loaf. As I said, there was only one loaf left in Leo's - around midday - so they must still be selling to someone. It's sad that something like this when it comes out of the oven, should end up sliced and trapped in plastic where it softens.


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