A window into the world of baking

The beginning of this year saw the opening of one of the smallest bakeries in the country. Cheerio Coffee is owned and operated by Courtney Gibb, previously the head chef of Mary Street Bakery, and his wife, Simone, and is slowly becoming one of Perth’s favourite little hole‑in‑the‑wall (literally!) bakeries. Baking Business had a chat with Courtney about his latest venture.

I’m a chef by trade. Basically, I always took an interest in baking. In my second job out of my apprenticeship, I got into the pastry section, and I just learnt from there,” says Courtney, whose baking acumen include working in establishments like Mary Street Bakery, Star Anise, and Greenhouse.

Cheerio Coffee is Courtney’s first major venture since leaving Mary Street after a seven-year stint, and the first after his two-year break from the baking world.

“The previous job [I had] was at a school canteen… I was getting itchy feet in the job. I’ve always liked the area here, and the space, and I just wanted to start with something small and basically—hopefully—build it and make it a bit bigger as time goes on,” Courtney says.

After his two-year absence from the world of baking, Courtney is very much enjoying being back in the kitchen, and the freedom that Cheerio Coffee is providing him.

“Being back in a kitchen and baking everything by hand on a small scale is great,” he says.

“I’ve been involved in bakeries on a big scale, and obviously moving to a warehouse you do lose that customer interaction. It’s been nice to get an understanding of how a business works. We’ve all worked in businesses for a long time, and it’s good just to have your own and have an understanding of a business side of things.”

The small scale of Cheerio Coffee, which is essentially a coffee window that opens directly onto the street with a small bakery behind it, makes for a very intimate space.

“It’s about 20sqm in total! The  counter obviously opens onto the footpath. There’s only a minimal amount of space for doing just a few baked goods. There’s not much equipment other than a micro‑bakery oven and a mixer, really,” Courtney says.

“It’s a little bit confined. It’s easy to mess up. But it’s also easy to clean up! You just have to work within the space that you’ve got. Obviously, you can’t offer the world, but I didn’t want to go down the route of doing too many runs of things.

“We’re baking a few different variations of sweet buns, obviously the staple: the cinnamon bun, which is always a favourite. We’ve also got a blueberry bun. And then, we’ve been making puff pastry by hand—just been making a few different pastries. The boureks have been well-received and quite popular with customers.”

Something else that Courtney is enjoying is being able to take the time to experiment with things like milling his own flour.

“I do have my own little benchtop flour mill, so I just get a few different grains from different farms. Playing around with that and with different flours and doughs and pastry—stuff like that—has been fun,” he says.

As for what the residents of Perth might think of the micro-sized cafe, the reception has been nothing but excellent, Courtney says. The small space has meant that he and the small Cheerio Coffee team have been able to get to know the regulars and locals.

“It’s been great,” he says.

“Obviously, just having that small space and not employing too many staff—we’re there every day, so we’re starting to get that grass roots. We’re getting to know all of the regulars who obviously live close by and stop by on a daily basis for something. It’s been really nice having that customer interaction again.”

As for how the micro-bakery life compares to places like Mary Street Bakery, Courtney says there are quite a few similarities.

“I guess when Mary Street first started, it was all similar. We’re probably a bit more small-scale compared to what Mary Street was—obviously that was a full-fledged cafe and bakery.

“There are a lot of similarities. We’re just doing everything on a smaller scale. Obviously, as businesses grow and you get more into wholesale products, it’s probably not as fresh. So being a small business like this, you know that customer is getting a fresher product,” he says.

The change in size has also come with a change in pace for Courtney.

“Learning how to run a business has been both a steep learning curve and also something familiar, he says.

“Obviously, you’ve got wages to pay, bills and that kind of stuff. So, it’s about getting your head around the difference between when you’re an employee and an employer.

“As an employee, you can go home when it’s finishing time, but as an employer, you’ve got to stick around. It’s you that has to develop the recipes and ideas. It’s been nice—to have that freedom.

“If you want to shut for a long weekend, you can. We did that the other weekend, and it was nice being able to do that. You have the freedom to shut down. We’re also shut one day a week. Being able to dictate what times you open and shut has been good.”

Although Courtney does have it in his mind to expand the bakery into a fully-fledged cafe, he’s decided to just take things as they come.

“In terms of plans, we just take it month by month, really. Obviously I want to have a nice community kind of cafe/bakery, and just bake things that I want to bake,” he says.

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