BY KERRY ANDERSON
WHAT do farmers, teachers, truck drivers and community leaders have in common? They’re partners in the newly opened Bakery on Broadway in Wycheproof of course!
Wycheproof on the Calder Highway is a close knit agricultural community with a population of 789 and a strong volunteer component that works hard to support itself.
Social events to bring the community together are immensely popular and it was on the day of the 2013 Wycheproof Cup that Amanda Gretgrix mentioned in conversation that it would be great for the community if it had a bakery. At the time Amanda was President of Wyche Vision which is kind of a Progress Association.
School teacher Chris Duffy, to whom Amanda's comment was directed, readily agreed, as did others. In fact the conversation progressed so quickly that four local couples committed to the finance and purchased a building within a month just before Christmas!
Chatting with the partners more than two years after this momentous decision, it soon becomes obvious that purchasing the building was the easy part. One of the advantages of rural real estate is that it is far cheaper to purchase than in the city, however, despite their best intentions, the bakery didn’t open its doors until Easter, 2016.
Now that Bakery on Broadway is now open and thriving I wonder what they have learnt along the way.
“So many people kept asking us ‘Why the delay?’” admits Ann. “It was very frustrating for us all.”
Working on a set budget, the partners undertook as much of the work themselves as possible on weekends in and around their daily work commitments. While structurally sound, the 1897 heritage building needed considerable refurbishment to become a modern bakery.
“We cleaned 100 years of dust out of the roof cavity,” recalls Marcus.
An architect worked with them and local contractors were hired to complete the electrical, plumbing and concreting tasks that were outside their skills set.
At the end of the day it was modern day regulations that apply to a building changing business purpose that held the project up the most.
“While we had always planned for all abilities access we hadn’t anticipated some of the extra requirements so it took a bit longer to sort that out,” explains Ann.
Amanda points out how wonderful the new access is for their customers. “On our very first day we had a young boy come into the bakery without assistance. You don’t realise how difficult it is for many people with mobility issues in rural towns right along the Calder Highway.”
When it came to sourcing equipment a relationship between the Keilor Rotary Club and Wycheproof Township provided an unexpected helping hand.
“David Bourke from the Keilor Rotary Club was wonderful,” says Ann. “When he heard what we were doing, he found a company in Melbourne that was able to mentor us through the process of setting up a bakery and to purchase the right equipment at the right price.”
Recruiting skilled staff was another challenge requiring lots of networking to find the right people. The outcome has been extremely positive with a qualified baker relocating from Melbourne to Wycheproof. His family and a nephew are about to follow. In addition a trainee pastry chef and barista have been employed through the visa scheme, also moving to rural Victoria in the process.
For the locals it has also been good news. Not only do they have an exciting new venue for coffee and food, the bakery has created 13 jobs in total with potential for more as the business starts to provide a return on investment and the partners step back.
When 25 year old Cobie presented for an interview she had no idea that she was going to be offered the position of manager.
“No staff should have to answer to eight different bosses so we decided it was best to appoint a manager for the Monday to Friday shift,” says Amanda. “If Cobie tells me to wash the dishes then that is what I do.”
This enterprise has been a real team effort by the partners, each placing their own stamp of ownership on the building, always practical and sometimes creative. Ann thought that the history was important so wrote a blackboard history for visitors to read. Nikkie and Adrien created the stunning outdoor furniture utilising old pallets and truck axles.
“We all have our strengths. Some are working behind the scenes but we’re all putting in,” explains Ann.
Amanda agrees. “The men took on the majority of the work in the building phase but now the bakery is open it is my time to help out.”
As the business gets established the partners are all hands on in the business working the weekend and early morning shifts as well as taking on specific tasks. Adrian opens up at 5.00am each morning for the bakers and Marcus cleans each night after closing. Freight is taken care of by Darren the truck owner-driver. Nikkie makes slices and Chris (aka Duffy) does the daily float. Ann liaises with the accountant while Amanda looks after social media promotion. Christine, Principal of Wycheproof P-12 College by day, picks up any number of tasks out of school hours.
As in any small business, extended family members have been recruited to assist wherever possible including design of the business logo by Maddy, the daughter of Marcus and Ann. During the school holidays everyone took turns at trialing and developing recipes for sausage rolls and pasties.
Thanks to Amanda’s Loddon Murray Community Leadership network, the Premier and Minister for Agriculture arrived for coffee and donuts during a mid-April tour of the district to announce drought funding. “That was phenomenal," she laughs recalling the tweets put out over social media by Minister Jaala Pulford.
Locals are also heavily invested in the new bakery. The Pastor of Granite Church near Donald has created the legendary ‘Broadway Challenge’ on social media during his regular visits. “He is eating his way through the pastry cabinet, one item at a time, and giving everyone a laugh in the process,” Amanda explains.
Hmm. Sounds like I have to build in a few more trips up the Calder if I’m going to keep up with the pastor.
So, what have I learnt from my visit to Bakery on Broadway?
Yes, the partners are understandably looking a bit weary. Yes, there has been the odd heated discussion with unexpected delays and eight different personalities. And yes, most important of all, they have proven that a group of people with a diverse range of skills and a vision to strengthen their community can make a start-up business not only achievable but a success.
PS. Did I say that they live, breathe and love the grain? Oh, that's right, they tell us themselves in large sign writing on the wall!
KERRY ANDERSON: A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia. She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.