By Melissa Keogh
Home Grain Bakery couple Toff and Cara West have mastered the recipe for success in South Australia’s small to medium enterprise sector.
Almost a decade ago, the Wests had no experience in business or bakeries when they decided to open a bakehouse in the former general store at Aldinga.
Now the pair are behind four successful Home Grain Bakery stores across the Fleurieu Peninsula and McLaren Vale, feeding scores of visitors with hot pies, pasties, cakes and other baked goods.
They admit launching a small business in the beach town south of Adelaide was a hard slog at first, with Cara at the time five months pregnant with the first of their three children.
“It’s been a challenge and we worked bloody hard, but I don’t think I’d do anything differently,” says Toff, who grew up on the Fleurieu.
“We wanted to have a place that we liked working in and people we liked working with.”
Home Grain Bakery has an overall workforce of about 70 people across its four stores, in Aldinga, Middleton, McLaren Flat, and a smaller ‘pop-up’ at Mt Compass.
Although the bakery is already on the way to becoming a Fleurieu food icon, the Wests want its reputation to stretch statewide.
“The short-term goal is to refine what we have been doing, pay down some debt and make sure we have the best business model as possible to grow,” Toff says.
“That will be a good place to be in by 2020.”
The Home Grain Bakery story begins when Toff and Cara met at Flinders University in 2007.
Cara, originally from the US state of Virginia, was on a semester-long student exchange when she sat next to Toff in a geography lecture.
“My parents told me not to fall in love and stay in Australia, but I did just that,” Cara laughs.
“I had never heard of SA until the exchange program and I’d never even had a sausage roll before.
“Now I don’t know how my kids would survive without them.”
Together they travelled the world, keeping a journal of “all the things we liked in coffee shops, bakeries and cafés”, with a dream of one day pursuing their own business venture.
It was after they married in 2010 and returned to SA when that dream fast became reality.
“We came back from a four-month honeymoon around the world and saw that the old general store in Aldinga was for sale,” Toff says.
“We thought it was a great spot for something and we knew that the town needed a welcoming place to get a good pie and coffee.
“We had no experience but were interested in business, so we hired a baker and opened a bakery. We just weren’t willing to sit back and watch someone else do it.”
While Cara handled the marketing side of Home Grain Bakery, Toff took over the general running of the business.
The pair was also mentored by fellow bakehouse Brighton Jetty Bakery and say the kind-hearted nature of others in the food industry attributed to their success.
“I think in business, there are two types of people,” Toff says.
“There are the ones who are willing to share with you their take on the industry, and then there are the ones who are quite secretive.
“Now we are very open and share what we do with anybody who asks, we’ve helped half-a-dozen other small businesses get up and running. It’s exciting for us to see others give it a go.”
Home Grain Bakery products are made from scratch, using the “best possible local ingredients”.
The bakery has long teamed up with the Fleurieu Milk Company, Laucke Flour Mills and Villeré Coffee, which have all supported them “from day one”.
“We use all our own recipes which means you can’t get our products anywhere else,” Toff says.
“During peak season we bake over 1000 pies and pasties a day at Aldinga to sell across all four bakeries.”
The Wests say a strong backing by the local community has helped their small business stay afloat, as has the reputation of SA’s premium food offerings.
“I think the quality of food here in SA is very high on a world scale,” Toff says.
“We have access to great produce and we have people who care about the food.
“That’s something that should be promoted to the world.”
To gain more insight into SA’s small to medium enterprise sector, join Brand South Australia’s Industry Briefing on April 10. Click here for more information.
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