The Bakery on O’Connell has a reputation for having good quality produce at all hours of the day. Even though it was never intended to be a 24/7 bakery, the Bakery has embraced its constant nature and fostered a happy atmosphere for customers, as well as a great working culture for staff. I spoke with one of the managers, James Kent, to learn more about this family-run business.
The Bakery on O’Connell has been open for nearly 20 years, with its first day being 17 March, 2003—St Patrick’s Day. Opened by owners Tony and Jane Greven, the bakery, which was initially only open during normal working hours, was met with resounding success.
As for how the bakery came to operate on a 24/7 basis—that was a complete accident, James tells me.
“It was never designed to be a 24-hour business. We had some bakers in of a night time, and they used to have the doors open to let a little bit of breeze in. We’re quite near the uni campus, so we used to get uni students who would walk in and say, ‘Oh, it smells great in here, can we come in and buy stuff?’”
So, the bakers sought permission from the owner to start selling to these latecomers, who kept coming back week after week. After hiring more staff and making sure their permits would allow for 24/7 operations, the Bakery on O’Connell restructured to the iconic 24-hour bakery it is today.
“Currently, we’re employing about 80 staff. It’s grown ever since we opened. When we started out, we had a couple of people working nights. Now we have as many staff who work of a night time as a day time.
“It’s been good. We were able to offer those uni students jobs—the ones who were coming in and were happy to work during the night.”
And those that go to work for the bakery are kept busy around the clock.
James says, “I don’t think we’re ever quiet! I’ve got friends who stop by at 3 in the morning who can’t believe how many people are in the bakery.”
Although, James says, the number of customers does tend to ebb and flow and is heavily dependent on the weather.
“When it’s warm, we’re really busy of a morning, a bit quieter over lunch, and then later in the evening we would be busier. Probably after 8pm once it cools down, that’s when a lot of people tend to come out.
“In winters, we’re quieter a bit later in the night, busier in the afternoon and lunchtime, and our mornings are a bit later.”
In 2015, the bakery experienced a huge change in the form of a move—200m down the road, staying on O’Connell Street, to a location double the size of the first one.
“We were renting at the old location, and there was an opportunity to own the building that we’re in now. So we took the risk and moved up the street,” James says.
“We essentially doubled our seating, and we can now seat 100 customers. We do fill those seats up, but I do remember coming down to inspect the place and thinking ‘It’s a bit quiet down this end of the street, maybe it’s a bad idea moving up here.’
“And now we’ve opened up, and we’re at the busy end of the street. I don’t know if that’s because we’re down here, but there’s definitely a lot more foot traffic around than when we checked out the location.” James laughs.
The bakery stocks the same things throughout its whole 24-hour cycle, but sweets are definitely more popular at night time, as are pies during the day time. The Bakery on O’Connell has a lot of success with its pies—it runs a pie of the month, with lots of different and exciting flavours having been featured over time.
“The one that we sold more than we’d ever sold for a pie of the month was a brisket mac ‘n’ cheese. By the time of its peak, we were selling maybe 500–600 of those a day—the demand was crazy!”
Having the pie of the month, and also a doughnut of the month, has definitely helped the Bakery on O’Connell to keep up its social media presence, which has done wonders generating organic traffic for the business.
“Recently, we spoke to customers that were on holiday from England. They said their friends back home recommended they visit us. Word of mouth is still the best advertisement!” says James.
“I remember when I was an apprentice baker, and I went to trade school. They asked where everyone worked, and I said I worked at Bakery on O’Connell. The lecturer said, ‘The place that never runs out of pies! They’ve always got a full pie warmer!’
“That’s what we were known for. We’re still known for it now.”
It’s important for everyone in the store to keep up with what’s running low, he continues. The Bakery on O’Connell strives to be the place where customers will always be able to find what they came in looking for—nothing is ever out of stock.
But the consistently available and well-made products are not the only thing keeping people coming back to the Bakery on O’Connell year after year, James tells me. Really good customer service is what turns a customer into a repeat customer.
“If you go somewhere and you get a good pie or a good doughnut, you might say ‘Oh, that’s good!’. But if someone was a little bit rude to you or you didn’t like the service, then you might not go back,” James says.
“But if you go somewhere and you get both of those—you get a good pie and friendly service with a smile—I think there’s no reason why you wouldn’t return.
“I’ve worked here for 19 years. I’d probably say that’s another contributor to our success—we’ve had a lot of staff that’ve stuck around for a long time. I did my apprenticeship with two other bakers, Joel Bennell and Peter Davies. Both of those guys are head bakers now, so they’ve also worked here for 19 years. The other manager, Shane Polkinghorne, has worked here for 20 years.
“The ability to keep staff on has been able to keep us consistent in the products that we offer. And people know what’s going on. I think that’s added to our 20 years of success.”
Something that has helped with retaining head staff is the friendly, supportive atmosphere of the family-run business, James says.
“Myself, I’m lucky to also be part of the family. The owners Tony and Jane are my uncle and aunt. My dad, Anthony Kent, is the night manager, and my brother also works here of a night time.”
The owners’ daughter, Amelia Greven, who grew up running around the bakery, now works there with her parents, James tells me. She is one of their front-of-house managers along with Letitia Smith.
“It’s all definitely in the family!” James laughs.
In terms of what’s next for the bakery, James says there are no plans to open any other locations, with the team being keen to continue their good run at the current location and focus on delivering quality products consistently.
However, the bakery has recently undergone some big changes, with the storefront and inside being updated over Christmas.
The Bakery on O’Connell is constantly working to produce the best food it can and to achieve ‘South Australian icon’ status. It’s well on its way to getting there.
“It’s almost to the point where people refer to us as simply ‘The Bakery’,” says James.