Trent and Liz Challenger have had their fair share of challenges, from living in a caravan outside a bakery with two small children, to multiple floods cutting off their town. Trent was a Brisbane boy through-and-through until he saw a job advertisement for a baker in a Central Queensland town he’d never heard of. Before he knew it, he’d packed his young family up and moved, soon buying the St George Bakery, and over 15 years later hasn’t looked back.
Becoming a baker wasn’t even something Trent originally aspired to. Throughout high school he worked a number of odd jobs, one at a hardware store, and one at McDonalds, where he met his wife, Liz.
“I never was going to go to university and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Trent says.
“Dad was down at the local bakery just down the road from us one day and spoke to the baker and asked if I could come and do some work experience. He lined it up for me and I turned up one night and 20-25 years later I’m still doing it!”
Trent spent the first two years of his apprenticeship riding his pushbike to the bakery at midnight – 1am before finishing his qualification through two larger, wholesale bakeries.
Restless though, Trent actually left baking for a while before being called back.
“I looked for a job in the paper and an ad came up for a baker in Central Queensland and I called him up and he said it was in Blackwater,” Trent says.
“I said, ‘where the hell is Blackwater?’ I had no idea!
“I flew up there for a week and thought it was pretty cool. At that stage, my wife and I had two little boys and a house in Brisbane, so we packed everything into a trailer and off we went to Blackwater.
“We spent nine months—we were there for a bit over a year—living in a caravan behind the bakery. I can tell you; it was an experience!”
As luck would have it, Trent caught wind that there was a bakery for sale in St George—a good six-hour drive from Blackwater, but basically a neighbouring town by Central Queensland standards.
The St George Bakery came as the complete package; bakery, house—everything.
“We went down one weekend, and almost 15 years later we’re still here,” Trent says.
“We’d never owned a bakery, never run staff—it was just a big blur to us.
“Looking back now, I don’t know how we survived.”
“Survived” is a modest way to describe what Trent and Liz have done with St George Bakery, however. In fact, they’ve not only regenerated the business; they’ve made some huge leaps in generating tourism to a town that previously was only a pitstop for travellers heading north and south.
“I’m into off road racing, and for the fourth time we’ve had round one of the Australian Off Road Racing Championship in St George,” Trent says.
“There’s a bit of State Crown land about five kilometres out of town that I hit the council up a number of years ago to ask if there’s any chance I could take my buggy out there and drive around.
“Then, ‘can we build a race track out here?’”
Trent got council approval, and the first year the event attracted about 40 cars. In its second year it doubled, and in the third year there were more than 100 cars competing on this racetrack which, by now, was 87 kilometres long.
“Beside this Crown land there’s some large cotton dams and cotton farms, so I asked the owner if we could use his empty dams as a racetrack and he said ‘yeah, no worries’ so we built it there,” Trent explains.
“[The Championship] started on Friday through to Monday, and you could not get a room anywhere in town. It’s now a televised event; it’s the biggest thing St George has ever seen, which just started with me asking the council one weekend.
“I spend the first few months out there cutting trees down and pushing it all out by hand, but over the years I’ve gotten a lot of help from local contractors and farmers and people donating equipment and time.
“It’s fantastic; it’s a whole big festival now for the town. It’s good for everyone.”
In terms of the bakery itself, well, it would take a whole magazine to list the big, marvellous and certainly unique things St George in famous for, but we’ll try—starting with the pizzas.
Not usually standard bakery fare, St George makes and delivers pizzas in town on Friday and Saturday nights—in specially branded Smart cars—and the practice has an interesting origin.
“On Friday and Saturday nights I used to have what they called the ‘drunk trade’. I’d be baking out the back, with the laneway down the side. After the pub would close everyone would come down the side to buy a pie or a drink or sausage roll from the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ slot.
“We had a bit of a problem when ice came into the regional towns, and the whole attitude of the night crowd changed, and it got violent so we shut it down.”
From there, they decided to start doing pizzas using their existing three-deck oven that could fit 12 pizzas in at a time.
After a successful first year, they invested in bigger ovens and expanded the kitchen, and it continued to flourish—they now average 300-400 pizzas per weekend.
Fortunately, Trent says they’re spoilt for space which has allowed for the continued growth.
“My dough room alone is bigger than the bakery I worked in at Blackwater,” he laughs.
In fact, he says he’d love to move his house to the next block, built a new bakery where the house is now, and then turn the current site into a car park.
“Parking is a big issue for us,” he says.
“If I sell a few more pies, long term that’s what we’d like to do!”
One thing the townspeople of St George never need to worry about is running out of bread. Despite the town getting cut off by seven floods during the Challengers’ ownership, Trent keeps his eyes on the skies and is proud to have never run out of flour.
“Knock on wood,” he laughs.
“When Brisbane had those big floods in 2010… I’d ordered in 12 pallets—I’d normally use about a tonne a week of flour—but I ordered in 12 pallets thinking we’re going to get cut off up here.
“We didn’t know Brisbane was going to flood the way it was, but I had 12 tonnes sitting in my shed.
“I was sitting pretty.”
As well as a good sense when it comes to meteorology, Trent says a good power supply and plenty of water helps keep the ovens burning and the dough mixing.
“We use rainwater in all our bread and cooking,” he says.
“When we first bought the business, we had one I think 10,000 litre water tank and since then I’ve kept buying more and putting on sheds, and we’ve now got 220,000 litres of capacity.”
We’ve talked kids, floods, off road racing and pizzas, but we can’t possibly end a feature about St George Bakery without mentioning one of its most famous products—which isn’t even sold in the bakery!
St George Bakery’s burger buns, as innocuous as they sound, are a tourist attraction in their own right.
A collaboration between the bakery and Nindigully Pub, the original idea was to do a big burger. Already supplying buns to the pub, Trent agreed and made a 500g cob loaf.
However, it took off and got a bit competitive, so Trent’s dad started making moulds for even bigger buns. The first custom burger was on a one kilogram bun, and was name ‘The Road Train’, with the burger it its entirety weighing a whopping six kilos and feeds six-seven people!
“It started off a bit of a gimmick, but it’s bigger than Ben Hurr now,” Trent laughs.
It became a bit of a case of “how big can you go?” and Trent’s dad has made custom rings—only just fitting in the oven—for 13-14 kg burgers, with buns weighing around 4 kg.
“From there, it’s blown up,” says Trent.
“Now, we do a bun in the shape of Queensland, and it’s called the Queenslander. It’s got a whole leg of lamb on it.
“We’ve got the Road Hog—in the shape of a pig’s head with a whole leg of pork.”
And it goes on and on, with a giant hotdog (3.5 feet long), and a huge chicken burger (aptly named the Road Runner), but the biggest of all is the Real Mac Truck.
“The bun is in the shape of a Mac truck and trailer,” says Trent.
“That bun weighs nine kilos, and the whole burger weighs just over 45 kg.
“They bring it out on a car door!”
Although Trent is a first-generation baker, as far as things are looking, he won’t be the last, with his eldest son (of four children!) now one of his apprentices.
“It’s been a bit of a challenge, working with your kid but when they’ve grown up around the bakery, that’s all they’ve seen us do,” Trent says.
“We’re always there; we don’t have family holidays because we work seven days a week, but they’ve been great kids; they’re very self-sufficient.”
Trent’s sister is also a pastry chef at Brisbane’s Treasury Casino, so despite being adults, they’ve never lost that healthy dose of sibling rivalry.
“She’s fantastic with all of the fine chocolate work and art and she’s very creative. I can write ‘happy birthday’ on a cake and make it look pretty, but she’s a whole other level there,” he says.
“Now we’ve got to fight for Mum and Dad’s approval as to who’s the best baker now.”