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Maxokk and the story of an extraordinary woman behind it (Part 1).

PART 1 | Do you know the story behind Maxokk’s Bakery? How it started and the amazing woman that ran the show? We give you the story of Grace.


You might know what Maxokk is and where it is located. Most of you have likely tried one or more of their Gozitan ftiras.


Maxokk’s Bakery. The bakery that no person on the Maltese Islands needs an introduction to. It is one of the main eateries frequented by the Maltese when visiting the beloved sister island, Gozo. The Gozitan ftira from Maxokk brings out values of traditional Gozitan authenticity, built on the history of a family-run business. Here we bring you the first part of the story. You can check out the second part here.


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Maxokk’s Bakery is now in it’s fourth generation. Secret recipes have been passed on, and have kept the family-run business alive. We at OMGFoodMalta recently had the opportunity to speak to Bernadette Gatt, the daughter of the owner of Maxokk, who was kind enough to share the story behind this Gozitan institution.


Bernadette learned the family business story through her mother, Grace, who would recount the beginnings of Maxokk to her two children (Bernadette and her brother Chris Farrugia) with pride and admiration. Grace’s mother, Marija (Bernadette’s grandmother), has been in the trade ever since she was a little girl.


When Marija was just 5 years old, she was introduced to the hard work one can find when working in local bakeries. She would be tasked with kneading the bread dough for various bakeries, for 5 Maltese cents a day (around 11 Euro cents in today’s money).


Maxokk_Bakery_GozitanFtira

Marija had not been the first in the family to work in the bakery business. Both her mother and aunt had worked in bakeries before her. Marija spent a long period of time working for her aunt in Nadur. Marija got married at a very young age, to a young man called Pawlu Attard, who was nicknamed ‘Il-Maxokk’.


The origins of the nickname are actually quite interesting. When Pawlu was a young boy, he was playing with some dynamo whilst he was riding his bike. After feeling a spark, he yelled ‘Ma, xokk! Ma! Xokk! Ma! Xokk!’ [translated literally as ‘MUM! Shock! Mum, Shock! Mum, Shock!’] The name stuck. He became ‘Il-Maxokk’.


Marija started out making and selling bread and later moved on to making Gozitan ftira with traditional ingredients; anchovies, tomatoes, potatoes, Gozitan sheep cheese and tuna. During those days the tuna wasn’t in cans but sold in chunks and kept in salty oil. The whole ftira was sold for 25 Maltese cents.


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Grace took over after her mother Marija had a stroke and became bedridden at the age of 62. Grace was one of the 12 children Marija had. Grace had grown up and lived her life with her mother and other family members in local bakeries even after she got married. Her siblings on the other hand, had all gone off to live abroad. Only Grace stayed on to help her mother. When the time came for someone to take over the job, she was the obvious choice.


Maxokk_Bakery_GozitanFtira

From then on the family started to expand their menu, catering for what the customers wanted. Originally, they did not open on Sundays except to cook homemade dishes. It was a time when people from all over the island would bring their homemade dishes to be cooked in Maxokk’s wood fired oven. No numbering system was used. People just recognized which dish was theirs.


The majority of Maxokk’s Bakery customers were still local Gozitans. Soon enough the Maltese discovered the place and from then onward, Maxokk took a new direction. Although the dough is still made with the traditional recipe, toppings have changed throughout the years. The Maltese people brought forward their own suggestions and tastes, and as a result the menu kept growing.


Maxokk_Bakery_GozitanFtira_Dough

Nowadays Grace runs the whole Maxokk business. She is helped by her two children; Bernadette and Chris. Everything is run by the family. Grace has spent her entire life in bakeries. She wouldn’t have it any other way. This is the trade that she was brought up in and loves.


She made countless sacrifices to keep Maxokk what it is today. Running such a bakery is not an easy trade. It involves a lot of work, especially since everything is done by hand. Whilst modern times have seen the introduction of machines that replace most of the manual labour, for Grace it just isn’t the same.


Bernadette says that it’s not just about the quality of the product, but also about the passion and love for the trade that is transmitted to the customer via the ftira. That cannot be replicated by a machine.


Maxokk_Bakery_GozitanFtira_Bakery

Bernadette has seen this passion in her own cooking and in her mother’s kneading and cooking at Maxokk Bakery. Grace has never worked for the money. She does it because she loves it. Bernadette described her as a very hardworking woman, and with good reason.


Grace works at the bakery from morning to evening. Even on days when the bakery is closed, giving it’s employees a well-deserved break, Grace still goes to the bakery. She always finds something to do, whether it is making ravjul or qassatat. All is good as long as she is doing something related to the trade she loves so much.


Maxokk_Bakery_GozitanFtira_Sardines

Grace received a lot of support from her husband who fully supported her passion and love for the bakery business. Her husband had a government job, and took it upon himself to look after the house and children; Bernadette and Chris. He would wake up early in the mornings, prepare lunches for school, wash the kids and cook for them. All whilst Grace would be working at the bakery. This type of work comes with its sacrifices.


Grace does not just have a passion and love for the bakery trade, but a genuine devotion and love for her customers. Although the demand for Maxokk’s delicious ftira always increases, whenever the opportunity arises, Grace and her children love to spend time with the customers, getting to know them and even offering them a glass of wine or a drink while they wait.


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When you visit the Maxokk bakery, say hello to Grace who will be there working and serving the customers. Grace will always greet customers with a smile, no matter how many hours she and her workers have slaved away in the bakery.


After reading all this you can’t wait to try the Gozitan Ftira? We feel you. Head over to Maxokk’s Bakery website and check out the Maxokk menu for their variety of options.

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