From katsu to tamago (Japanese omelette) to fruit and cream, sando fillings can vary significantly. But the ridiculously fluffy shokupan, or Japanese milk bread, that holds them together is a constant.

Satoshi Narusawa has spent the last 15 years perfecting the art of shokupan – the soft crumb and the thin, tanned crust – originally working in Tokyo, where he was born, but more recently in Melbourne. But now he’s officially taken his loaves to market as Lt Cardigan, a specialty shokupan bakery created in collaboration with Bench Coffee Co.

“It was a side project that became quite big,” says Narusawa, who’s also a full-time baker at Loafer. “One of my friends asked me to make shokupan for Taiyo Sun in 2018. That’s when I started baking it in Melbourne.” And thanks almost entirely to word of mouth, his baking operation grew steadily over the next few years.

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After meeting the Bench Coffee Co team, he was asked to make shokupan for their sando shop, Saint Dreux. He then went on to partner with them, selling it by the loaf through their website.

But, given it’s a one-man operation, Narusawa soon realised the business was growing beyond his control. So, when the opportunity arose to officially join forces with Bench Coffee Co on a dedicated bakery, Narusawa jumped on it. “I’ve been making bread for Loafer and myself for nearly two years,” he says. “I’m physically exhausted.”

For Narusawa and his customers, the promise of a bakery and retail space – slated to open by the end of the year – is a win-win, allowing him to decrease his personal workload while increasing availability and maintaining the integrity of his product.

Narusawa’s current shokupan recipe is more or less the same as it was when he was in Japan, save a few swaps for local, organic ingredients. “Andrea, the owner of Loafer, taught me ... how important it is to work ethically and locally, and use organic ingredients when possible,” Narusawa says. “I inherited her ethos for the way I make bread.”

While the bakery’s location and launch date are yet to be confirmed, the team is set on the inner city. “We’ve been trying to find a space [on] the north side,” says Narusawa. “It will be ready as soon as possible, hopefully within the year.”

Until then, $16 loaves are available to pre-order for pick-up on Saturdays at Saint Dreux.