Situated in a picturesque and historically significant building in Toodyay, Western Australia, the Toodyay Bakery hasn’t always reflected the heritage of the town. Under the care of Jason Marion and his wife Cassie, however, the little bakery has expanded and bloomed.
Initially bought in 2012 in partnership with Jason’s brother who ran it for the first year while Jason made a bucket list trip around Australia with his wife and kids, it has taken nine years of hard work to renovate, expand, and do justice to the circa-1899 building.
“At first we had a partnership with my brother while we travelled,” Jason says.
“I was planning on travelling around Australia and I found this bakery on the way to my mum’s house and rang him because he’s a baker as well and he wanted to buy a bakery.
“He ran it for the first year until we got back. It wasn’t really for him and his wife, so we bought [his share] off him and went from there.”
Jason, whose grandfather was a baker in Holland, set to work to unleash the potential he knew the then-dated bakery had.
“It was a pretty plain sort of bakery, you know, everything was just white,” he says.
“It was like something out of the ‘80s really; nothing had been changed. It was just white sliced bread and nothing in the cabinet. We thought it was a good opportunity for the tourist town [Toodyay] was becoming to revamp it and bring back some of the heritage and make artisan products rather than just the basic white sliced bread.
“When we travelled Australia we must have gone to every bakery along our route. This gave us plenty of ideas and an insight into what customers want from a country bakery. Our first decision was to give the town something different but still keeping the traditional bakery items. You kind of have to do a bit of everything in a country bakery.”
Originally just occupying the bottom floor of the building, Jason and Cassie have expanded significantly, taking over the upstairs—previously a café—and also the shop next door, knocking down a wall in between to increase seating space.
“Over the years we have taken over three more adjoining leases so we have three kitchens.
“The balcony has great views and is prime position especially during festivals.” Toodyay sits on the Avon River in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, about 85 kilometres north-east of Perth, and is one of Australia’s oldest inland towns. Jason says it’s largely a tourist town with a lot of holiday homes, so the population living there permanently is quite small.
As a result, Jason says coronavirus lockdowns were initially quite stressful, especially when regional borders closed to Perth—where many customers travel from—but to their surprise, business has boomed.
“The first month of the pandemic was a bit stressful because no one knew what was going on; the government was putting out all these promises and no one knew how to claim for it,” he says.
“Then our region got locked down so people from Perth couldn’t get up here.”
Like many small-town businesses, Jason says they were able to maintain an income supplying essentials like flour, which he says the sold “a tonne of” each week.
“The town really supported us so it was good, and then some of the other closer towns couldn’t go to Perth, so they started coming to Toodyay because we have a decent shop and supermarket,” he says.
“So we were still quite busy, and then they opened up the regional borders and no one could really go anywhere so they all came on day trips around the Perth area.
“We had lines out the door – sometimes they’d stretch 50 metres out the door! That was a bit of a boom, and it just went on and on, so our weekend days became like festival days, and our weekdays became weekends. It was a bit chaotic!”
Product-wise, the Toodyay Bakery is best known for its range of artisanal sourdough breads and its pies.
“They’re the two major ones,” Jason says.
“We brought the sourdough in just to bring the town something different, you know, rather than the basic block loaves.
“We teamed up with some local producers and sourced items including lamb, goat, beef and veggies. This was the first step and the response from locals was huge. Word-of-mouth spread and before we knew it, people were coming from all over and we grew to 25 staff.
Jason’s products have been very well received by both the locals who buy them and by the baking industry, with the bakery accumulating plenty of prizes for its pies, sausage rolls and pasties.
“We’ve won a few,” Jason says.
“In 2016 we won Australia’s Best Pastie; this was a massive win and sales went through the roof, followed by Australia’s Greatest Apple pie in 2019.
“Last year we won Australia’s Greatest Sausage roll and this delivered another bump in sales. The product we enter in the competitions is the same as you get from the shop.
“We like to enter the competitions as it puts us up against some of Austraia’s best bakeries, and the guys like doing it because it refines their skills and there’s always excitement in the air when something goes over and we wait for the results.”
As well as entering the competitions, Jason is heavily involved in the baking industry, serving on the Baking Association of Australia (BAA) Board as the WA delegate.
He’s busy, but believes that for the time being, he has reached maximum capacity and doesn’t have immediate plans for further expansion.
“It’s taken us nine years to renovate the thing fully—we’ve just finished—so at this stage we’re happy where we are,” he says.
“People have approached us to expand, but I’ve got young kids at the moment and it’s also family time. We moved to the country for the lifestyle and it’s taken us nine years to get to the lifestyle that we actually want and get time to spend with the kids.”
To this end, rather than opening up another store they’ve decided to team up with a few like-minded businesses in other nearby country towns.
“We have our bread and pies at Calingiri Traders—a country town about 60 kilometres north—a bit of wholesale in York and Goomalling and a few cafes that buy our bread as well.
“We just concentrate on that rather than opening up another store. That will come at a later stage, just not yet.
“We’re in no hurry.”