Kierkegaard bread? Rumzipan? Anti-oxidant bombs? It can only be Saint Sugar of London. The healthy eating bakery stall is a fixture on Roman Road and Brick Lane, and this year it celebrates a decade in business.
The saint in question, Enzo Moschetta, started out with a single small table. Now his stall is piled high with vegan, paleo, gluten-free, sugar-free, soy-free, dairy-free baked goods.
Moschetta grew up in a village on the outskirts of Rome, where his mother used to bake bread and cakes in a wood burning oven. It’s a streak that seems to run in the family. In 2009, Around the time Moschetta’s brother Libor opened a bakery, an opportunity to sell in Brick Lane was advertised as part of a Tower Hamlets high street regeneration scheme.
While Libor’s bakery was brick and mortar, Moschetta was drawn to the freedom of the market. It was a chance ‘to bake, to work on my own and sell my own things.’ So he signed up.
Moschetta had no previous market experience. ‘When you start you don’t know how to sell,’ he says. ‘You don’t know about pricing or how to display things.’ To start with the Saint Sugar stall was nameless, and comprised of a single table. Needless to say, he found his feet.
Five years after starting out, Saint Sugar was invited to join Roman Road Market. Mary Portas was in town with a film crew and Tower Hamlets Council was looking for food vendors. Moschetta accepted the invitation, the pitch stuck, and now his blessed loaves, rolls, and tarts appear every on Roman Road every Saturday.
Let them eat brioche
The Saint Sugar outfit is nothing if not original. For a start, the name is ironic. Free-from food is integral to what Moschetta and Sona, his wife, do. Almost to the point of absurdity. The stall is packed with madeleines, peanut butter brownies, sourdough loaves, matcha balls, carrot cakes, banana bread, croissants, danishes, tarts… all some combination of vegan, paleo, sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free…
The stall has grown to accommodate this selection, and taken in all at once it looks like an avalanche of artisanal baked goods. Everything Saint Sugar sells is prepared in the family kitchen during the week. Home is ‘full of baking trays, full of sugars and flours.’ Every two-day spell on the market takes days of preparation.
Moschetta enjoys experimenting with his recipes, adapting to the health fads of the day. ‘There are always new trends,’ he says. ‘Gluten free was very popular a few years ago, now vegan is more popular. Maybe in two or three years something else is going to come.’
It also provides a sort of challenge. And make no mistake, making appetizing paleo brownies is a challenge. ‘Even for myself I try to make new things. Every few weeks I try to come out with something different. It would be boring going every week and selling the same things, so I try to upgrade.
‘There is something for everyone.’
Unsurprisingly, Saint Sugar’s social media game is strong. Its Instagram feed looks like a vegan food porn highlight reel, and the Twitter account has so many quotable lines that Moschetta has set up a page on the Saint Sugar website to document them. ‘Only together we can succeed where the French revolution failed: bringing brioche to the people.’
Moschetta supplements the visuals with sugar-free nuggets of wisdom. Poetry by Spanish mystic Juan de la Cruz; passages by Rainer Maria Rilke and Comte de Lautréamont; short stories by Jorge Luis Borges. Spiritual nourishment is as important to Saint Sugar as brownie-related nourishment.
Indeed, given Moschetta’s astonishing gift for looking exactly the same in every photograph, we wouldn’t be all that surprised to learn he’s an existential philosopher working undercover as an free-from baker. Who else could promise sourdough loaves ‘full of fibre and hope’?
Market life on the Roman
Metaphysics aren’t much good in the marketplace. The brass tacks is that Moschetta needs to produce goods people will buy then buy again. It keeps him grounded. ‘If you see the same people coming every two or three weeks, it means they like what you do. It’s important to have regular customers.’
That connection is something Moschetta enjoys in Roman Road, and something he wasn’t used to seeing on Brick Lane, which has a much stronger tourist streak. ‘In Roman Road you mainly have people living and working in the area.’
The makeup of that local population is more varied than Moschetta was used to in Italy. For many, ‘It is more popular to start the day with a croissant for example rather than an English breakfast,’ a preference that suits Saint Sugar down to the ground. ‘Here is more multicultural, you see people from lots of countries. There is more diversity.’
It seems an appropriate backdrop for Moschetta and his family, a new generation drawn to the autonomy of market life. ‘I prefer working like this,’ he says. ‘You have a sort of freedom. If you have a shop you need to be open every day. Here you can work whenever suits you.’
Will Saint Sugar make it to a 20th birthday? Moschetta chuckles. ‘We’ll see. I always change. I don’t get too bored. I try to do different things. It would be too boring for ten years coming here every weekend and trying to sell the same thing.’ So long as there is inspiration (and demand), there will be reason to continue.
An underlined passage in Saint Suger’s Instagram feed stands out as particularly relevant. Jorge Borges writes: ‘A certain eighteenth century author observes that no man wants to owe anything to contemporaries.’ Watching Moschetta work at the centre of his freshly baked artisan universe, one can’t help but think he’s pulled it off.