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A South African's guide to moving to and making it in Malta: The invisible baker

Diagonally across from our village house and on the opposite corner lies one of the great marketing mysteries of Malta, a retail conundrum that would perplex even Sherlock Holmes - the case of the invisible baker.
Unbranded awning over Ta-Barbetta, the village baker | Mark Leach

If I may presume to be Dr Watson, the Lace House is situated over the road from one of Malta’s most acclaimed bakers. People drive from miles around to come and buy Ta-Barbetta’s artisanal breads, his hot rolls and an ever-changing array of almondy local biscuits, the latter which are often seasonal specialties. As if this wasn’t temptation enough of biblical proportion, our household is on banting so the cinnamon-y baking smells every morning would test the forebearance of an archbishop on this particularly Roman Catholic isle – or else give new meaning to the term cardinal sin!

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Customers of Barbetta (translation sideburns and presumably the nickname given to one of his baking antecedants) stop their cars illegally on the double yellow lines which occasions good humoured traffic congestion, and there is often a queue or people idling out the door. But here’s the thing: for all of Barbetta’s popularity, he has no branding. His premises and sun-bleached awning are without signage – inside or out. The interior still has the old tiles from 100 years ago and his oven looks like a medieval forge. This is your archetypal village baker and a throwback to an era before the theories of modern marketing and branding disciplines imposed upon us. Unless you knew there was a baker there, no clue as to his trade is externally visible.

The Barbetta deduction


The success of Ta-Barbetta is illustrative of the anecdote I told in Clean sweeps and dirty reputations about the particular gravitas attached in Malta to reputation.

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To follow a particularly Holmesian brand of deductive reasoning:
  1. Barbetta has a reputation earned over many decades for baking excellence
  2. Everybody knows everything about everyone in Malta, an axiom established in The culture of connection

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    A South African's guide to moving to and making it in Malta: The culture of connection

    Valletta, the baroque cityscape on the island fortress of Malta, is making global headlines this month - indeed this year - as it assumes the mantle of European Capital of Culture 2018. Last year, after having fallen in love with this little corner of the Mediterranean, I relocated to the archipelago for a sabbatical to take a front row seat for the programme of the next 12 months...

    By Marcus 'The Maltese Falcon' Brewster 19 Jan 2018


    Deduction: Everybody knows that Barbetta is the best baker in the South.

    How fascinating to see a retail business thrive without signage, branding, a website or social media management and very refreshing to live in a culture where such a modern anomaly is possible.

    Roving retail


    The preponderance of quaint little shops in the village core has now become more than a way of life, it’s become protected. Our historic village centres – the urban conservation areas – are restricted as far as development is concerned which means that supermarkets are located at the outskirts of the town where the later housing developments are.

    No mention of village shopkeeping would be complete without referencing the particularly Maltese phenomenon of roving retail. An antecedent mash-up of a food truck with pop-up, roving retail is street corner shopping with a difference. On certain days and times, a truck passes your house, or parks in the village square or at a particular intersection and offers specific commodities. At its most elementary level, it’s an old woman with a pram. She may be sitting in the sun outside the post office or sometimes opposite Barbetta for maximum visibility, but she sells eggs and tubers and whatever may have come from her kitchen garden.

    On Mondays the gasman’s truck with replacement cylinders makes a slow perambulatory paced circuit of the village. On Tuesdays and Fridays, the fishmonger can be found in the piazza where the fruit and veg truck is also a regular tenant. On other days, a hooting cacophony announces the transit of the household cleaning materials truck. This trader’s lorry is a veritable chariot for the lapsed domestic goddess being stacked with detergents, tile cleaners, soaps, floor polishes, fabric softeners and assorted buckets, mops, brooms and brushes.

    So insistent is his hooting and so loud his shouted arrival that even Holmes’ violin-playing would not be enough to drown out the sales spiel. With island life, we have vaulted over online shopping to get to the nub of home delivery: retail is already on our doorstep or just driving by.

About Marcus 'The Maltese Falcon' Brewster

marcusbrewster is a brand synonymous with PR excellence in SA. An industry innovator, leader, and inspiration, Brewster affiliated his multi-award winning boutique firm with larger Level 1 BBBEE marketing/comms agency MediaRevolution for scale in 2016 and went on to launch Marcus Brewster International in Europe the following year. Marcus currently lives on - and actively promotes - the Mediterranean island of Malta. For African, S. African and European PR enquiries, contact marcus@marcusbrewster.com or WhatsApp on (+356) 9931 3322
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