For more than 25 years Ross and Kay Perry served up peerless loaves of sourdough at their Albury-based business Valentine’s Traditional Bakehouse. Now with their three children at the helm, the next evolution of the business is already underway.
It was in 1991 that Ross and Kay Perry took their first steps towards creating what would become a NSW baking institution.
A carpenter by trade, Ross had a long-held dream of one day owning a winery. This dream was further fuelled by travels throughout Europe with his wife, Kay, and their eldest son, Harry, during which the trio stopped off at every available winery to sample local wares. However, it turns out it was the bakeries they visited along the way that really captured their attention and, on the Perrys’ return to Australia Ross and Kay decided to make the jump into hospitality and buy the Albury-based John and Helga’s Sourdough Bakehouse.
As part of the changing of hands, John—a master German baker—not only handed over the bakery’s sourdough starter but also taught Ross the process of sourdough baking. A quick learner, Ross discovered his passion for winemaking and all things fermentation also leant itself to working with bread.
One business name change later—after it became clear consumers were confused as to why the Helga’s loaves lining the supermarket shelves weren’t the same as the delicious bread they were buying at the bakery—and Albury’s baking scene was forever changed.
For 25 years Ross and Kay worked hard behind the Valentine’s Sourdough counter, while also raising their three kids, Harry, Matilda and Joseph.
Like many country kids, the three younger Perrys all set their sights on careers in the corporate world after finishing university. For Harry it was marketing that was calling and he moved first to Victoria and then to Tasmania in pursuit of it, while Joseph completed a Bachelor of Property and Matilda graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce.
However, with baking in their blood and parents starting to make motions about retiring, Harry put an idea to his siblings: that they join forces and together take over Valentine’s Sourdough.
“Mum and Dad were looking to sell as they were worn out after working in bakeries for 25 years. It was at this time I presented the idea to my brother and sister about buying the bakeries from them,” Harry says.
Despite carving out a successful marketing career the allure of the hospitality industry had proved too strong for Harry, and a few years earlier he had moved back home to open his own coffee shop and sourdough bakery in Yarrawonga, Victoria, called Souleiado Sourdough. It proved an immediate success and was soon followed by two The Barista, Baker and Brewer [BBB] cafes located in Albury and Wodonga respectively, where Harry also roasted coffee onsite under the brand White Owl Coffee.
“I could see the potential to expand and further develop Valentine’s. We could all bring to the table our acquired and passionate skills to create a company to expand Valentine’s into a reinvigorated and exciting business venture,” Harry says.
On October 1, 2016, The newly forged Perry Group officially acquired Valentine’s Bakehouse, as well as The BBB cafes and White Owl Coffee, with Kay and Ross continuing on as mentors for their children.
“Their wealth of knowledge and experience is invaluable in the running and development of Valentine’s,” Harry says.
Since then, Valentine’s has expanded to new locations in Wodonga, Wagga Wagga and Rutherglen, while the latter also serves as the business’s production hub.
“We all now live in Rutherglen and wanted the bakehouse to be close to home in addition to the potential of it being located in such a busy tourist town,” Harry says.
In fact, Valentine’s Sourdough’s popularity has proven to be such the Rutherglen shopfront was required to undergo extensive renovations, which Harry estimates has increased baking capacity by around 10 times.
“The old bakery wasn’t really designed to be baking for five retail stores and a wholesale base. The new bakehouse is purpose-built to handle larger quantities with less physical input,” Harry says.
“We have put in new ovens, proving rooms, loaders and now have lots of bench space. The retail space has also undergone a major facelift with a three new seating areas, bathrooms, commercial kitchen and outdoor areas.
“We also roast our own coffee under the brand White Owl Coffee Merchants. I was roasting the coffee in one of our Albury stores, but have moved the roastery to the new Rutherglen site to create a single production hub.”
The renovations took almost two years to complete, with quite a few delays due to COVID-19 restrictions and border closures. However, the end result is one that Harry says has enabled Valentine’s Sourdough to broaden its business horizons.
“Being in border towns means we did struggle with tradespeople being able to make it to the job site [during border closures] in addition to sourcing some materials and equipment. However, now it’s all finished business has been fantastic since we opened just before Christmas,” Harry says.
“We saw a great summer tourism period in addition to the great support from our loyal local customers.”
These days there is a consistent product range lining the shelves in each of the shopfronts, with a strong focus on producing quality sourdoughs and in-house roasted coffee.
If that wasn’t enough, the fruits and vegetables used for vegetable pasties, frittatas, sandwiches and paninis are grown in the market garden under Joseph’s watchful eye.
“The only difference is our Rutherglen site has a commercial kitchen which we do cooked meals from seven days a week. We employ a couple of chefs who do cooked breakfasts and light lunches,’ Harry says.
“The beauty of having many different aspects to the business means we get to do different things week to week, depending on where we are all needed at that time. The business is constantly evolving and we love rising to the challenge. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for us and the baking industry.”