Five minutes with Andrew Sutton

When Andrew Sutton started CJ’s Bakery in Adelaide with his wife, Kerrie, 12 years ago, he could never have foreseen the impact his passion would have on the community. In addition to making waves at national baking competitions, CJ’s has also made a difference through their annual Easter charity auction. This year, Andrew and the team at CJ’s are preparing for an even bigger and better Easter season than the last!

How did you get into baking?

At 15 years old, it was my ticket out of school. I had done some work experience at two bakeries earlier that year and then was offered two apprenticeships within a couple of weeks, so it wasn’t really a question of should I leave school, but which bakery would I choose?

Can you tell me a little bit more about CJ’s Bakery and how you started working there?

My wife, Kerrie, and I purchased CJ’s Bakery around 12 years ago. It was a somewhat run-down, old English patisserie, that had been part of the local main street community by the sea for some 33 years. After picking up the keys on a Friday afternoon, with the help of our extended family we pulled a big weekend, stripped the shop, repainted, rebranded, and on the Monday morning, CJ’s Bakery began!

The bakery name comes from our two children, Charli and Jess. Sometime before we had decided to purchase the bakery, the girls had made us a special lunch and decorated the room with a sign saying ‘Welcome to CJ’s Cafe’, we loved the name, as it gave meaning to our small family business.

CJ’s Bakery has had a lot of success with hot cross buns over the years. What’s your secret?

No real secrets. We have always worked hard to present a quality product for our customers.

The competitions with the Baking Association of Australia have been great to keep our standards high and inspire our team to deliver the best we can. Which is why, in 2017, we decided to enter our first National Hot Cross Bun Competition.

We had always considered national competitions to be a massive commitment of both time and money, and in our early days we didn’t have the resources to get us there, but despite our circumstances, which weren’t great at the time, we decided we would put it all on the line and give it a go! We knew our buns were good and our customers loved them, but we really didn’t know how they would stack up against all the other bakeries across the nation. The thoughts we kept coming back to though were, “What if we won?” and “Imagine what this could do for our business!”

So, around 10pm on the Friday night, six weeks before Easter, we booked a last-minute flight to Melbourne for 6am the following morning. Kerrie flew the freshly baked buns in before flying straight home again, and then we went about our day. We hadn’t heard anything right into the evening, so assumed we mustn’t have done too well. Until we received a video message from the BAA around 10pm that night, announcing “The winner of Australia’s Best Hot Cross Bun for 2017, is CJ’s Bakery!” We were in complete shock and had to keep replaying the message for it to sink in.

Winning this title was transformational for our business. We had the most incredible Easter season and really learned the true value of what these competitions can do for your business. That year, we set new records in hot cross bun sales, and Easter Thursday was the best day we had ever seen! This really gave us hope of what could be possible in the future if we just kept at it.

How did it feel to come second in the Australia’s Best Hot Cross Buns Competition last year?

We were super excited to come second in 2022. It’s not first place, but there is very stiff competition with bakers from all over Australia throwing their hats in the ring. We will be there again this year hoping to get our name on the perpetual trophy again. From memory, it has only come to South Australia four or five times, and we’re keen for its return.

How have you all been preparing for this year’s Easter season?

We’re stocking up on our fruit and flour, and the spices are on their way in the lead up to our auction day. We then continue refining our flavours and spice mix ready for the competition and another great Easter season!

What goes into the perfect hot cross bun?

It all starts with top quality ingredients and a lot of passion and care. The best local fruit we can source, great local flour, and a recipe I’ve been using for 20-something years. I’ll adjust the spice mix as the season dictates to maximise the flavour and aroma. The right balance of fruit is important, too much can make ugly buns, too little looks a bit stingy. Respecting the dough, giving it good rest and factoring in the weather are all important. In 2017, we did add a little something extra to our spice mix; turns out it was a winner!

Since 2018, you’ve been raising money through the auction of your hot cross bun trays, going from $300 then to over $5000 last year. What does this mean to you?

We were excited about our win, but really wanted to do something with it beyond us. So, we decided to hold a charity auction of our first tray of Hot Cross Buns for the Easter season. It was an exciting time! We approached some of our local businesses rallying support. And we had one of our local real estate agents and auctioneers donate their time to come and run the auction for us. After managing to convince a few people to commit to pre-bids so we would be guaranteed to get twice the value of the tray and anything else on the day would be a bonus, we had a start.

On auction day, we sold our first tray of Award-Winning Buns for $300 in support of HeartKids Australia. We were over the moon!

This has been such a rewarding experience, and every year more and more of our community has gotten on board with raising much needed funds for charities important to us, with an increase in the money raised every year.

Last year, we were able to raise over $5,000 for Endometriosis Australia. We were absolutely blown away by the result, and so grateful to our community of bidders that has continued to grow each year.

Expectations are high for 2023, we have some regular bidders keen to be in the fight again this year, with all proceeds going to Endometriosis Australia, a charity dear to us, as our youngest daughter suffers from this painful and incurable disease.

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