From the beans in the coffee, to the German sourdough starter and the reclaimed Pizza Hut building, a hands-on approach has been the backbone of operations for this family bakery business-turned-bustling hospitality enterprise.
orged from a passion for life’s necessities – a good cup of coffee in the morning, freshly baked sourdough bread for lunch, and a beer or two in the afternoon – The Barista, Baker & Brewer was born.
As the name suggests, the booming business in New South Wales’ Albury-Wodonga region consists of baking, coffee roasting and beer brewing arms, with family trio Harry, Ross and Kay Valentine-Perry at the helm.
Their longstanding Rutherglen bakehouse has been transformed into the primary baking premises with another branch continuing to operate in Wodonga. Albury has proved a further successful location for the family’s enduring business, recently relocating to a reclaimed Pizza Hut building.
The dream began when Ross, a carpenter by trade and the family’s patriarch, found himself out of work. Armed with an enduring dream of owning a winery, Ross travelled through Europe with his wife, Kay, and their son, Harry, stopping off at every available bakery and winery to sample local products and to gain inspiration. The trip not only fuelled Ross and Kay’s own hospitality dreams, but also lit a fire within Harry.
Ross went on to learn the secrets of sourdough from local baking legend John, then-owner of John and Helga’s. Then, 25 years ago, he took over from the German couple with a keen determination to maintain their tradition of fine sourdough breads. With the business came the duo’s sourdough starter, direct from the motherland. It’s still in use today, with Harry estimating it’s about 48-years-old.
“Mum and Dad originally kept the name John and Helga’s until customers became confused… they weren’t sure why the sourdough breads they were buying fresh from the bakery were so different to the Helga’s bread that was on the supermarket shelves, so they changed the name to Valentine’s Bakehouse,” Harry says.
“Mum wanted to push the authentic, beautiful sourdough breads and really upped the ante on the marketing. But this was Albury back in the late ‘80s and customers would come in and say ‘I don’t want any sour bread, I want the good bread!’ It’s great that times have changed!”
As trends and explorations in artisan breads gained traction, sourdough bread became a sought-after purchase for any keen bakery enthusiast. And so, the Perry family found themselves in good company.
Nonetheless, Harry did what a lot of country kids do: he set his sights on the corporate world and moved first to Victoria and then to Tasmania to pursue a career in marketing. The sights and smells of the bakehouse was too hard to resist, however, and his own passion for hospitality eventually won out over days spent behind a desk.
He opened Souleiado Sourdough in Yarrawonga in Victoria, which he operated for 18 months before moving to Albury to form the logical partnership with his parents.
Harry roasts his own coffee in store, allowing customers to see how the process works and even lend a hand in the all-important testing of the brew. While he helps his father with dough in the bakery when he can, it is his holistic approach to coffee that has really taken the business to the next level.
Not only does Harry’s own coffee brand, White Owl, keep people flowing through the doors of the Albury store, it also distributes to Harry’s Souleiado Sourdough bakehouse, plus the two other family outlets across NSW.
The brewing aspect of the business is in the capable hands of Ross and Kay. The best produce from their own winery is on the menu and the pair is increasingly dabbling in boutique beers, which are also enjoyed in-store. They currently have the licence to sell liquor to their customers and are looking into a permit to allow them to brew on the premises.
“It’s how we ensure everything is right from the get go,” Harry says of the family’s overarching do-it-yourself mentality.
“We produce our own grapes to make the wine, we’ve got our own sourdough starter, and right from the green bean all the way through to a cup of espresso we’re able to ensure great quality for our customers.”
As the business has expanded and the loyal customer base grown, The Barista, Baker & Brewer has also been able to offer the services of an in-house chef who prepares meals-to-order, custom breakfasts and lunches to satisfy the early morning and weekend crowds.
“The menu is really simple and the hero of all dishes is always the bread, pairing well with the coffee. Customers can indulge in seasonally-minded cakes and desserts, a forever changing palette,” Harry says.
“It’s good to be able to give our regulars something new to try each week.”
Customers sit in a 60-pax dining area at the Albury store with room for 20 additional patrons on the breezy front alfresco area. The table settings and interior furnishings were made by Ross and Harry, further extending their DIY mentality as all-round creatives.
Harry seeks to instill this approach in his team, providing regular demonstrations of coffee roasting, beer brewing and a deeper look into the workings of sourdough starter after hours to staff. This is something he hopes to extend to customers in the form of classes and tastings in the foreseeable future.
The Valentine-Perry family knows the value of personal branding in a technological world. With both Harry and Kay boasting marketing backgrounds, advertising has been an obvious contributor to their success. One very clear platform has been social media.
“The visual aspect of both Facebook and Instagram are really useful, as most of my posts are photos of our products. Customers are able to talk to me on there too, which wouldn’t be the case if we didn’t use social media. They can comment, and show their appreciation, it’s immediate and easy,” Harry says.
The personal touches mean Harry’s role at The Barista, Baker & Brewer goes beyond the basics of communication or sales; it drives him with greater passion than coffee does… if that’s possible.
“I feel like I’ve found my calling,” Harry says.