Australian Baking Business goes to North Adelaide’s bustling food hub to catch up with Tony Greven, Bakery On O’Connell’s enthusiastic proprietor.
Five minutes from the city, in the heart of North Adelaide’s food hub, is a full-service bakery so busy it never sleeps.
Conceived by two brothers-in-law back in 2003, Bakery On O’Connell has more than 200 products on offer, including cakes, pastries and bread, all hand-crafted by its young professional baking team on the premises.
It’s the pies that bring in the lion’s share of customers, and with a new variety every month – including chicken parmigiana, and Mexican corn chip and jalapeño – it’s no surprise owner Tony Greven says there is something in the pie warmer for every occasion.
“Our Hangover Pie is particularly renowned for making people feel better after a big Friday or Saturday night. It’s been well-thought out: beef mince, with not too many chunks to tire you out, along with Tabasco sauce, baked beans and onion to really get the stomach settled,” Tony says.
“Even at 4am, it’s as good as a Berocca!”
And, Tony would know what’s well received in the early hours of the morning, because the bakery is open 24-hours, seven-days-a-week.
“We never intended to be open all hours. We started off closing around 6pm, but with a lot of restaurants in the area, people started coming in after their meals wanting coffee and cake, so we started staying open until about 8pm,” he recalls.
“Then, they were complaining we were shut on Monday, so we opened seven days. Then the university kids up the road caught wind of the bakery and would wander in the front door, which we left open while we baked throughout the night. Before long, we were selling up to $800 a night, so we put a lady at the counter and evening business has really taken off.
“Now, on Saturday nights, we’ll have seven or eight staff on and line ups out the door. It’s crazy!”
It doesn’t take a particularly business savvy individual to know a 24-hour bakery would appeal to late night revellers and sports crowds, both of which can be found walking O’Connell street at all hours.
“The grab-and-go market really appeals to all the sports fans going to and from the Adelaide Oval, which is only about 600m away from us. And, with the $450 million redevelopment of the oval, we’re expecting a lot more people in the area,” Tony says.
“Of course, there will be concerts and community events being held there as well. It was meant to be the venue for the Rolling Stones, before they cancelled their tour.
“We don’t want to just be busy on these big nights though. Our priority is to make sure those customers are 100 per cent satisfied and that they come back.”
With such a relentless schedule, and 45 staff on the books, Tony certainly has his work cut out. Nonetheless, he continues to lead by example.
“Even today, if it’s dirty under the sink, I’ll be the one on my hands and knees to clean it up. Nothing will ever be beyond me,” he says.
No doubt, it’s an attitude both he and his brother-in-law, Rob, garnered after laying bricks for more than a decade. In fact, the pair may never have even thought beyond the trade if Rob hadn’t broken his wrist on the footy field – a move that quickly led to pair to realise the lifestyle wasn’t sustainable.
“I had seen old brickies with their hardened skin, sore backs and deep love for a coldie, and knew we couldn’t lay bricks for the rest of our lives,” Tony says.
And, while his love for a coldie wasn’t going anywhere, he spoke to his accountant sister, Cathy, who suggested a bakery business.
“We knew absolutely nothing about food or bakeries, except that we ate every day and liked a good meal,” Tony says.
“We learnt very quickly what made a good product. Never skimp on quality ingredients.
“The cost of making a pie may go down from 60-40 cents if you’re using crappy meat. But put your price up 20 cents and watch the customers come back again and again.
“Do you know how many people worry about saving money and don’t put their main emphasis on making money?”
These days, the business is solely owned by himself and his wife Jane, who also looks after the bakery’s accounts. With another brother-in-law managing night shifts and nephew James in the kitchen, Bakery On O’Connell is certainly a family-affair. Nonetheless, for Tony, family isn’t always blood-related.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have the most dedicated, motivated and focused staff any business could hope for. I sometimes just like to watch everyone work in unison, efficiently, with all the guides we have set up in the last decade,” he says.
“There is Shane ” Scratcha” Polkinghorne, the manager, who has been a part of the bakery since day one. He started washing dishes for me 11 years ago and since then, has learnt to bake, to manage the front of house and now, to make important decisions in the business.
“There’s Anthony “Lippy” Kent, the night manager who has been with us for years.
He invented the Nutella Heart and, while he doesn’t do too much baking these days, runs front of shop and manages the night bakers.
“Katy, our weekend manager, has been with us since she was 17. She’s now 23 and a very intelligent, motivated person. She also manages front of shop shop three days during the week, and is in charge of rosters, training and multimedia
“Then there are our head bakers Joel and Pete. They are perfectionists to say the least, along with Kym our team leader, who has been with us for more that six years.
“Actually, the only problem I have with my staff is I have to keep dishing out long service leave,” Tony laughs.
The staff are certainly all people who look customers in the eye with genuine warmth when saying “hello”, “goodbye” or “thanks” – a move that blows patrons away and no, doubt, keeps them coming back.
“You don’t get a second chance at first impressions, so we make sure 100 per cent our first impressions count. Let’s face it, everyone loves to be liked and to be treated special. It isn’t that hard and it’s quite rewarding for the staff,” Tony says.
“Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. Our goal is to become an icon, somewhere you go when you want a great pie or vanilla slice and know it will be as good as last time, somewhere to sit anytime of the day or night and watch life go by.
“It’s a place my family hold dear to our hearts and our invaluable staff who, without them, the bakery would never exist as it is today.”