Copenhagen Bakery's sweet story

03:52, Aug 30 2012
Copenhagen Bakery has been brightening up our lunch and dinner options for 25 years.

Sweet treats and pastry delights are what make Copenhagen Bakery a Christchurch destination.

Pastry perfect

The award-winning Copenhagen Bakery has been serving Christchurch sweet treats, gourmet pies and traditional Danish bread and pastries for 25 years.

Business owners Donna and John Thomsen.

Had Danish baker John Thomsen followed in his father's footsteps, he might well have spent his life at sea as a fisherman off the coast of Denmark. Luckily for Christchurch's Danish pastry fans, John was prone to seasickness, so he focused on his flair for making traditional bread and pastry.

From sugary pastries to Danish black bread (rugbrød), the selection at Copenhagen Bakery is underpinned by John's baking expertise.

John and his wife, Donna, opened the business in Armagh St late in 1987. Back then, Danish-style food probably seemed a little challenging.


"I remember elderly ladies coming in here asking for ginger gems and being very disappointed when we couldn't oblige," recalls Donna, who is the organisational powerhouse behind this family business. "We were determined to be a true Danish bakery, but the Kiwi taste was initially pretty conservative."

That's changed over the years and it seems Christchurch now can't get enough of European flavours. In turn, John has conceded some ground. For example, pies - not a food of choice in Denmark - are now a big part of the bakery's savoury line-up. Copenhagen Bakery has even won accolades and gold medals for its pies, such as the version filled with chicken, asparagus and cashew nut.

Donna believes John's skill in pastry making, combined with determination not to skimp on ingredients, is what has won them success in the discerning Christchurch pie market.

"We also decided that if we did make, say a Kiwi-style cake, that it would have a European feel with John's own interpretation. What we didn't want was a cabinet full of pink raspberry buns and doughnuts. Our food has always been dressed up in a different way," Donna says.

Forced from its Armagh St premises by the February 2011 earthquake, the business reopened in Harewood Rd in January. Almost as soon as the doors opened, the bakery was swamped with customers, many regular clients keen to reconnect with their favourite pastry and pie stop.

"Before we reopened, I'd have people coming up to me asking 'when are you opening again - I miss my chicken savouries'. I think I'm known about town as 'the chicken savoury lady'," Donna says, with a laugh.
Other top sellers are their signature Danish pastry kringles with traditional fillings, custard slices and apple slices, chicken pies, steak and cheese pies, and multigrain and sourdough breads. Copenhagen Bakery's fruit and spice-packed hot cross buns, available from January to mid-April, are also famous.

Everything is made from scratch and plenty of good quality butter goes into the pastry. John says 100kg of butter a week is used in their various products.

The bakery's new premises are more spacious than the inner-city site and have been tastefully fitted out with a Scandinavian theme. Weekdays get off to a busy start with corporate customers picking up orders on their way to work. Saturdays are busy with families and foodies.

Joining Donna and John in the business is their youngest son, Kristian, 19, who has started his baker's apprenticeship. After the February quake, he spent several months in Denmark working with John's old boss and developing his own Danish baking skills.

The Copenhagen Bakery also employs three other qualified bakers and another trainee. After the business reopened, some of the original staff returned and both John and Donna are thankful to have their expertise.
After many years in the trade, John retains his passion for baking. As he says, there is something very special about "the crackle and pop" of freshly baked bread.

For many customers, having the bakery back in business has been a welcome return to normality. "They are often from a broken part of the city, and coming to us out here is a way to forget and enjoy time out," says Donna, who suggests people are becoming more sociable in the wake of the earthquakes.

"Our residential bakery is seeking to cater to this changing market by becoming a cheerful meeting place for one and all, just like the corner local bakeries do in many towns and cities of Europe."