It’s 5am and Melbourne is sleeping. Except Kate Reid, who has already been up for an hour. She is carefully slicing croissants in half, then flipping them to face up on the tray. Her younger brother, Cam, is dipping a brush in sugar syrup and sweeping it across the halves. “They need to be sugar-syruped because they’re day-old croissants. That’s the traditional way to make an almond croissant. We bake these specifically and hide them upstairs. You can’t publish that, because then people will be like, ‘We know you’ve got them upstairs! Give it up!'"
Kate Reid’s business is unusual. With help from Cam, the pair work 60 hours a week preparing small batches of artisan croissants and pastries. Out of a nondescript takeaway window in suburban Elwood, she opens three days a week (Friday to Sunday) until she sells out (usually by 9am). To make things more interesting, Kate is a trained aeronautical engineer who decided on a career change, and went to study pastry making in Paris.
As we talk, Kate starts piping, in a zigzag motion, a layer of thick almond frangipane in fat, speckled ripples. Then she presses each top half back on, pipes another stripe of frangipane along the spine of the croissant and adds generous pinches of slivered almonds onto the sticky icing.
Kate is explaining the recent ticket system Lune just introduced. It’s an attempt to keep the peace and try to manage the expectations of queuing customers. “If we made 260 pastries this morning, and we also know the maximum number of pastries per person is six, we can figure out how many ticket numbers we can safely give out to people and say, ‘you’ll definitely get a pastry’.”At 6am I poke my head out the front door. A man wrapped in a jacket, gloves and scarf exhales a breath of steam in the dark. He is the first in the queue.
Back inside, Cam and Kate’s working banter is silly and familiar, referring to the pastries as “cruff-dogs” (cruffins), “crozzy-ant” (croissants and “panos” (pain au chocolat). And when they taste the ganache or a good song comes on, they declare: “That’s the jam”.
By 6.40am, the pace is picking up. The almond croissants are out of the oven and Kate is ferrying trays loaded with pale horns of croissant dough downstairs into the glowing ovens. Tickets are distributed in the dark through a takeaway window.
At 7.20am I count at least 30 people outside. Some are sitting on the pavement in groups, others are bouncing up and down in their coats to ward off the cold.
“I love the comment: ‘why don’t you just make more?’” Kate laughs. “We probably hear it daily. Cam’s standard response to that now is: 'Mate. If you can think of a way for us to make more, or you want to do it, that’s fine.’”
The obvious solution would be for Kate to simply hire more staff and move to a bigger kitchen. But as she explains, “The worst thing for us would be to increase our quantities and to start hearing people say, ‘They’re not what they used to be.’” Kate’s style is pedantic, perfectionist and hardly practical. But the constant queues show that something is working. While most of the customers are appreciative and patient, there are always some that don’t understand not being able to get what they want.
“This guy got really aggressive with us and other customers one day. Cam said, ‘Thank you for waiting today sir, but we’re not going to be serving you’. Then the guy turned on me and kept ranting, so I pointed to him and went, [swelling up her chest] ‘No croissant for you!’ And everyone in the line went silent. Then there was clapping when he walked away.”
I ask Kate if she thinks she’s making the best croissants in the city.
“I’m making my favourite croissant. I don’t like a very sweet croissant dough. I think mine’s a bit more savoury and salty. I like it that when you eat it, your plate is covered in flakes of pastry.”
It’s starting to get light outside and the pace in the kitchen is serious. Dialogue is fast and short. Trays of croissants are brushed with egg-wash. The cruffins (croissants baked in muffin pans) are dipped in molten chocolate and rotated with a flick of the wrist. Icing sugar is shaken in billowing clouds over a tray of pastries.
At 8.03am the blinds come up and Lune is open for business. The first guy, the one who has been waiting since 6am, orders three choc-hazelnut, one almond and two chocolate cruffins. Customers approach the window, blinking in the peachy morning light. Most order four-to-six pastries, probably averaging around $30 an order.
At 8.30am, the ham and gruyere is cleaned out. There’s a little dance the customers do; shifting from foot to foot, peering at the diminishing racks with concerned expressions.
Ten minutes later, the kouign amanns are gone and they’re tearing off ticket 53. The remaining customers are getting anxious. The ones who already have their bounty pose with it for Instagram photos.
By five past nine there are just 15 plain croissants left. Four minutes later, Cam bellows out, “all gone!”The next guy in the line is good-natured about his bad luck, although obviously a little disappointed. Kate walks over to the takeaway window, dishtowel in one hand, the other on her hip.
“Here’s the deal. I’ve got two little ones out the back set aside for my mum and dad. They’ve got personality, but they’re not perfect. $3.50 each, what do you reckon?” He takes them.
1/29–31 Scott Street Elwood
Fri 7.30am–sold out
Sat & Sun 8am–sold out