Ask Alice Bennett and Alisha Henderson what a typical day at Co Bake Space looks like and they both laugh before answering simultaneously: “Chaos”.
The two studio owners are bakers, cake artists and Aussie Instagram baking stars and seem to resonate to the same upbeat energy. You can tell there’s as much fun to be had in their shared kitchen as there is cake.
“It’s a bit silly and very supportive … We’ve built an environment here that makes you want to come to work, and we get fomo every time we’re away,” Bennett tells Broadsheet. “It’s like glorified partying,” Henderson adds.
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The pair first met over Instagram and then in person years later at a day-long pastry class – they were the only two wearing pink dresses and sneakers amid a sea of pastry professionals in chefs whites. Earlier this year they teamed up to open Co Bake Space in Richmond, Melbourne.
As the name suggests, it’s similar to the concept of a co-working space – but for bakers and other food and drink makers. A former bakery with a small shopfront on busy Swan Street and a commercial kitchen out the back, Co Bake Space is a big departure from the tucked-away commercial kitchens in Footscray (Bennett) and Hillside (Henderson) they were working from previously.
The duo has the kind of loyal Instagram audiences most brands and bakers can only dream of. Online and off, Bennett runs Miss Trixie Drinks Tea, whipping up vintage-style cakes adorned with picture-perfect piping, lollies and puns. Henderson operates under the name Sweet Bakes and focuses on cakes with hand-painted messages, drawings and occasional pet portraits.
Behind the kitchen doors, there’s serious business going on, as well as silliness. There’s always music (a ’90s “mum playlist” in particular), and each week 100 kilos of butter and 900 eggs are delivered. An early riser, Henderson gets in by half past six (“proper baker hours” she notes) while Bennett prefers to start her mornings by nine. Throughout the day (assisted by a baker each), they’re busy fulfilling orders and trying (many) bites from each other’s trays.
“Obviously our styles and finished products are quite different, but the process, quality and care are very similar,” Bennett says. “We’re both massive food snobs and very particular about what’s going into our cakes.”
Not only is the bricks-and-mortar studio a place where the bakers can share a kitchen and bring their online businesses to three-dimensional, crumb-coated life, it’s also a space for creatives and brands to do the same – with regular workshops, pop-ups, classes, tastings and photo shoots.
Designed by Dot Dot Dash, the brief for the fit-out was “not cake-y” or “sprinkle-y” Bennett explains. The shopfront has an all-peach interior with warm lighting, touches of gingham and a sign over the kitchen reading “Caking in progress” that lights up like an “On air” radio sign. While the design scheme speaks to both of their brands, it’s a blank enough canvas for guests to add their own flourishes or activate the space without bringing anything but themselves and their goods.
“Generally, small businesses, especially online, don’t have the chance to engage with their audiences, so we facilitate that nice halfway point where they don’t need to go out and get [their] own space,” Henderson says.
So far, Co Bake Space has hosted the likes of ex-Attica pastry chef Rosemary Andrews, Masterchef contestant Reece Hignell, Melbourne gumboot label Merry People
and The Great Australian Bake Off 2023 winner Laura Foo. Artisan bread specialist Backhaus Bakery, Cherry Pie – baking family-recipe American pies for Halloween – and local maker Dreamcatcher Candles are upcoming.
Bennett and Henderson are happy working together and inviting others into their space – a fact that’s puzzled some who question why competitors would team up and run their businesses from the same location. To that Bennett says, “There’s enough pie to go around in Melbourne.”
“You don’t just go to one restaurant for the rest of your life because you love the food. Our clients love good cake and so they actually bounce between both of us,” Henderson adds. “It’s a great way to elevate and complement each other.”
Additional reporting by Audrey Payne.
This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.
For a look inside the studios of other local creatives, head here.