Drive-throughs are nothing new, but they’re no longer just the domains of cheap and greasy fast food for the travel-weary road tripper. Instead, bakeries and cafés are popping up all over the country as a saviour for the time poor and parents driving around with sleeping children.
In 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, drive-throughs are more relevant than ever as a great way of maintaining social distancing and keeping bodies out of shops. Businesses already with drive-throughs are thanking their prior smart thinking, while others rush to get in on the convenient offering.
Golden Nugget Bakery (Ballarat, VIC)
The Golden Nugget Bakery in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat has a well-established drive-through service.
“We began our drive-through approximately 13 years ago when an existing KFC building became vacant,” said owner Alicia Matthews.
“My husband came home one day and asked, ‘What do you think about a drive-through bakery?’
“Well the rest, as they say, is history!”
As is often the case when introducing a new concept in a regional location, the drive-through bakery took some time to really take off. But the Golden Nugget brand was well known in Ballarat, with the original bakery in Wendouree opening in 1978.
“The first day that we opened, we had five cars through the drivethrough,” Alicia said.
“Were we worried? Yes! It really took us roughly nine to 12 months for the word to get about that there was a drive-through bakery in town, but once we started pumping, we got busier and busier.
“In our business plan we thought that we would be attractive to tradies—no longer would they need to find a double park that enabled them to park their car and trailer; they could just come to us for their morning coffee or smoko, drive through and not have to leave their trailer, let alone their car!
“It wasn’t too long before our customers grew to mums with kids in the car, particularly new mums with their new baby in a capsule. Over the years so many mums have said to us that we were what kept them sane in the first year of being a mum.
“Of course, due to COVID-19 our drive-through is now busier than ever. We’ve seen around a 20 per cent increase in the amount of cars coming through from when the pandemic began. In September 2013 we opened our second drive through in Ballarat, which has just blossomed over the past few months also.
Johnny Baker (Castlemaine, VIC)
After owning a successful patisserie in Melbourne, John moved to Castlemaine with his wife for a tree change.
“We came here about eight years ago and started a café in another part of town.
“My background is a chef, then I trained as a pastry chef.”
John operated the café for about a year before realising he needed to find a way to set his business apart from others in town and started making pastries again.
Slowly the business grew, and eventually they outgrew the space. Fortunately, an opportunity to expand and even create a drive-through came up at just the right time.
“A man who owned one of the old hotels in town came and saw me and said ‘if you ever want a space, I’ve got the old drive-through bottleshop at the back of the hotel that I’ve converted into accommodation and a little bistro; let me know if you’re interested.’
“So I came up and had a look and it was just a big black space with roller doors at the back of this hotel and I thought, ‘I can do something with this’.
“So I pulled the roller doors out, put shop fronts in, fitted out the bakery and started to manufacture and then relied on word of mouth to let people know I was here.
“It was the old drive-through, so I kept it as that.“
At the moment John is using the drive-through as a space where people can queue up while maintaining appropriate distance due to COVID-19.
Prior to moving into the new space, John utilised a vintage caravan (pictured) for similar purposes, where people could drive up to get coffee on the go.
Despite his Melbourne origins, John has managed to build up strong ties with the local community in Castlemaine over the years with Johnny Baker.
“The majority of my customer base, which would be about two thirds of my business, are local.
“I have arrangements with a lot of people in town. You know, old ladies give me lemons and I give them lemon tarts back in return.
“I’m connected with a lot of the local growers so I’m able to get produce that’s local and keep the food miles down.
“And then the balance; Castlemaine’s a bit of a tourist town—there’s a lot of attractions here—and people come on the weekends, often from Melbourne to visit the town and they’ve either heard of me or read about me or something, and they inevitably end up here.”
Daniel’s Donuts (Geelong, VIC)
A new drive-through store in Geelong ensured residents didn’t miss out on doughnuts during isolation.
Making clever use of an existing drive-through, Daniel’s Donuts opened its new outlet (the chain’s ninth store!) in the old Hungry Jack’s building on High Street, Belmont on March 28, and was warmly welcomed by the regional Victorian city.
On opening morning, locals lined up in droves from 6am to grab a bite of the chain’s famous doughnuts. At one point customers lined up for hundreds of metres along High Street, and the store was sold out by 2pm on the day.
Heatherbrae’s Pies (Heatherbrae, NSW)
Heatherbrae’s Pies has highway stores in Heatherbrae and Sutton Forest, NSW, and offers a full drive-through service.
Being just two hours north of Sydney, it’s the perfect rest stop on the drive north or south. Along with the premium quality pies, Heatherbrae’s Pies takes pride in producing a quality range of cakes, coffee and sides, including chips, mushy peas, potato and gravy.
Their determination and drive to achieve the best quality pies in the industry has resulted in Heatherbrae’s Pies becoming an icon in the local area and famous with highway travellers both in New South Wales and throughout Australia.
Bakers Cottage Cafe (East Maitland, NSW)
Bakers Cottage Café operates in four locations in the Hunter region of NSW, but its East Maitland store has an extra card or two up its sleeve.
“Drive-through is one of our features, and we are a bakery with a liquor licence,” says owner Geeta Upadhyaya.
“We are very popular with the locals and whoever comes in off the Hunter.”
During the pandemic, Geeta says they noticed traffic picked up in the drive-through, while the inside of the bakery/café was not as busy as usual.
“I had customers who had never used the drive-through before, so that was their first time.
“That was the age bracket of 50-plus, so they like to have their coffee and cake in the restaurant or café usually.
“During COVID, my main sales were milk, bread and pies,” Geeta says.
Paddock Bakery (Burleigh Heads, QLD)
Maya and Dion Scholz own the pretty-as-a-picture Paddock Bakery at Burleigh Heads, and managed to quickly set up a functional drive-through when COVID-19 hit.
“When the restrictions were put upon us and the whole hospitality industry had to shut down, we closed for two weeks,” Maya says.
“The first week shutting down, and the second week reassessing how we were going to make it work as a takeaway.
“We’re quite lucky because our site sits on a double block and we have a double entrance and lots of car parking specifically for our bakery, so we were able to implement a dual-lane drive-through.
“You enter via one street and you order up at the end, then park in the carpark. Inside the orders come up on the screen, and we put them into a box or a bag then we run it out to them.
“It actually works really well.”
In addition to the drive-through, Paddock also has a converted horse float, which has been used for takeaway orders.
From pre-virus times, sales were down, but Maya said they were thankful to have the space to setup for drive-through and takeaway.
“It was nowhere near what our normal sales would be, but fantastic for what we were going through,” Maya says.
“After a couple of weeks of people knowing we were open, it started to become very popular, to the point they’re wanting us to keep the drive-through.
“Which unfortunately we can’t do.”
Miami Bakehouse (Myalup, WA)
Miami Bakehouse’s Myalup store makes the most of its location with a purpose-built drive-though. Situated on the main route between Perth and the Margaret River region in WA, it catches the traffic heading north and south.
Victoria Gardiner from Miami’s marketing team said the drive-through has shown its true value throughout the pandemic.
“It’s a convenient location , just 30 minutes from Bunbury and in the last 10 weeks it has really come into its own,” Victoria said.
The bakery was presented with a few challenges during COVID-19 restrictions, with Western Australian regional borders closing and, as a result, no tourist traffic.
“We knew how important it was for the drive-through to remain open throughout the pandemic as many of our regular customers that travel on the Forrest Highway, whether they’re commuting for work or they’re essential workers; they needed a rest-stop on the three-four hour drive. While many other cafés had closed, we did everything possible at Myalup to remain open,” she said.
Victoria said that having a drive-through was a huge help for the Myalup bakery in managing the restrictions involved to remain open, especially for maintaining social distancing while delivering the product to the customer.
Overall, Victoria says it is the convenience that keeps customers coming back.
“The customers love that they can literally pick up a gourmet pie for dinner, it’s handed to the customer through the drive-through in a bag, and off they go without ever having to leave the car,” she said.
Of course, even after going through the drive-through at Myalup, Victoria says many customers choose to park and check out the impressive KangaArt on display in the large outside picnic area.
“They drive in, drive around through the drive-through, and then go and park and come back in because they’ve seen the outdoor area as well,” Victoria says.
Pinjarra Bakery (Maddington, WA)
With four stores operating, the Pinjarra Bakery is a hugely popular destination for coffee and all things bakery-related (especially their award-winning pies!) in WA.
However, it’s Pinjarra’s Maddington store that has proved to be the real winner among customers this year.
According to Pinjarra’s Jodie Pantaleo, due to its drive-through setup, the Maddington store was able to provide more options for customers in terms of shopping while maintaining appropriate social distancing and staying safe.
“It’s just another alternative for people,” Jodie says.
“It’s all about convenience these days.
“It was the first time we’ve done it and we weren’t sure how it was going to go so we just did coffee through the drive-through and a few pies, but it worked and is now a full-service drive-through.
“You can get coffee, cakes, pies—pretty much everything that we offer, you can get through the drive-through.
“We get a lot of repeat customers who get their coffee every day and have a chat with the girls. It’s really nice.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pinjarra Bakery found that despite an initial lull, business actually became busier at the drive-through location.
“COVID was such a bizarre thing for all of us to go through and initially we were a bit quiet,” Jodie says.
“I think everyone was in that fear/panic mode.
“We had a bit of a rocky patch in the beginning, but to be honest it’s just gone from strength to strength.
“Zero to hero!”
Although the store wasn’t set up for a drive-through when it was originally bought by Pinjarra around six years ago, Jodie says they saw the potential for it in the available space immediately.
“We cut in the windows first off the bat but being a new business, we were a bit tentative with doing it [opening the drive-through] straight away, so we held off a bit longer to launch it,” she says.
“We’d love to do drive-throughs at all of our stores, but unfortunately the rest of our stores aren’t set up that way.”