Necessity was the mother of the invention of the Starving Artist Food Co. … and Dr Scroll … and a thriving catering business.

By Sue Turpie – Photography by David Field and supplied

For this Bendigo business, theirs is a success story born out of necessity and a love for good food. Aptly called the Starving Artist Food Company, under the umbrella of which now is Dr Scroll, there have been twists of fate and lucky encounters that have seen this home-based initiative meet the public. However, it has been the consistently high-quality range of products and dedicated service that have ensured the company’s longevity and continual growth both locally and further afield.
It was a journey from fine art to fine food for Lee Trewartha who had finished a degree and was undertaking a PhD in fine arts. While the study and work fuelled her passion for research and creativity it didn’t contribute much to the family coffers.
“I was exhibiting widely, but selling paintings in the economic climate we’ve had was difficult,” Lee says. “Our kids were at school and my husband was then made redundant. We sold a bed and breakfast that we were running in Quarry Hill, and thought to ourselves; ‘what the heck are we going to do now’.”
Lee answered that question by drawing on her skills in the kitchen. While contemplating setting up a food business she received some great advice from Nick Haddo who owns Bring on Cheese Company: “With food, you make what you love to eat.”
It was the family’s connection to a Bendigo theatre group and its production of Pirates of Penzance that provided an outlet for a scrumptious cinnamon roll Lee made for her own children.
“My husband is involved with Nexus as conductor of the orchestra. The director Julie knew I made these cinnamon rolls. I’d spent time in France and America and I absolutely loved the rolls over there … and the French brioche, the cakes and pastries. I was a real foodie anyway. I came home and made up these buns with all those influences from my travels. Julie asked for hundreds of cinnamon rolls for the cast. We went and did four 15-minute intervals, and had queues out the door, selling $1800 worth of buns in an hour.
“People came back and said: ‘that’s the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth’,” Lee laughs. The French pastry is made from scratch. “I’ve had a few classes with Annie Smithers, she’s been a big inspiration.” And only high ingredients and local where possible such as Golden Yolk eggs, because they’re local and taste great, as well as natural butter and Laucke flour from Bridgewater.
The Starving Artist Food Company is the over-riding company focusing on catering, while Lee has separated the scroll making and rebranded it under the name of Dr Scroll.
“I thought I had to get my PhD in there somewhere,” Lee jokes. “It was an apt name when we started. I had a blog called ‘the starving artist at large’, and I used to put recipes on there. We love restaurants and love food. I used to just get online and chat about it.”
From there, Lee took her food to the market at the Bendigo Showgrounds and established the business as a quality caterer. The catering initially was a way of keeping a budget for daughter Erynn’s wedding which was towards the end of 2015. Erynn Trewartha-Lewicki has been an integral part of production even during some busy times in her life.
“We’d get an order for 400 buns, and Erynn would roll out a few then sit at the table and do a paragraph on her Master of Teaching,” Lee says. “Erynn was helping and everything took off so she’s still working in the business, she is just as important. Coming from someone who didn’t really cook … We got repeat business as a result of her wedding.”
The growing business has meant some interesting times in the kitchen with some 22,000 buns put through 15 Breville machines. “We couldn’t afford equipment,” Lee explains. “It was nuts. It’s only been about four months ago we bought a mixer. We were putting 500 buns through a domestic oven and we just couldn’t keep up with demand. We’ve had markets contacting us and now we make thousands of buns.”
The buns vary thanks to an experiment one night when Lee added lemon to the mix. They’ve done 70 flavours since then and have a good following on Instagram with fans checking in to see where their buns will be for sale next.
“It’s exciting, and we never expected this to happen, but I’ve always said that good food sells.”