By Melissa Keogh
The Goolwa Bakery has made “food for the Fleurieu” for the past 105 years and now the long-established business is preparing to share its pies and pasties with Asia.
With help from Austrade, Goolwa Bakery owner Ben Hage is about to enter the Singaporean market after taking part in Business SA’s Export Ready Program recently.
Batches of pepper pies and pasties will be sent to Singapore in April 2018 for an international food and catering expo, with Ben also in discussion with an online Singaporean grocery retailer.
“The Goolwa Bakery has been going for 105 years, so it must be doing something right and why not share that with Asia?” he says.
“We need to step outside of our little comfort zone and explore.”
The original Goolwa bakery is based in the seaside town, but within the past five years Ben has expanded the brand to four other sites across regional SA.
Stores are located at Hayborough and Stirling while the Seaford and McLaren Vale sites are both known as The Cottage Bakery.
All 120 products are baked at the original Goolwa Bakery site, with classic favourites including pepper pies, pasties, vanilla slices and chocolate eclairs.
“Our bakers start at 11pm–1am and then one of them leaves Goolwa at 2.30am to deliver the products to Stirling, then they’re back in Goolwa by 4.30–5am,” Ben says.
“We also have drivers who drop the products to the other stores seven days a week.
“Our head baker, Geoff Varcoe, he’s a Goolwa local and his attention to detail with the creams and cakes is absolutely outstanding.”
Established in 1912, the original Goolwa Bakery is one of the town’s longest running businesses.
It has changed hands a number of times, but many of the recipes have stayed the same.
Ben and his brother took it over five years ago from their parents who had owned it for six years prior.
Ben says opening the four other sites had provided year-round jobs for bakers and other staff.
“The biggest problem I saw (before opening four other sites) was that Goolwa Bakery is so seasonal due to everyone being down there in the summer,” he says.
“So the number of bakers went from six in peak season down to two in winter, which was hard to manage and wasn’t really creating a good workplace culture.
“So I thought, ‘how can we level out that rollercoaster of employment?’ The way to do that was to open a couple of other retail outlets by aiming for one new retail site a year.
“Now we employ seven bakers 52 weeks of the year and it’s gotten rid of that seasonality of the business.
“The workplace culture has improved because everyone is slightly more relaxed knowing they’re not getting cut when the peak season winds down.”
With the addition of four stores, the original bakery’s production volumes have also increased, prompting Ben to invest in two new ovens at Goolwa.
“We had the ‘old girl’, a six-deck oven that had been baking for 48 years,” Ben says.
“But she was so temperamental because she had hot spots and cold spots.
“Our bakers are a lot happier and our power bills have decreased.”
Ben says the Goolwa Bakery is strongly focused on delivering “the best food, best service and best culture”.
“Culture in a business is all about everyone working together and making it all happen,” he says.
“It’s not something that can be measured from KPIs and numbers, but it flows through to these things.
“It’s about the staff being on board, and if you’re front of house you need to provide the best service for the customers.
“We get good feedback and that’s why people keep coming back.”
Goolwa Bakery pastry is hand rolled, while ingredients are always sourced local where possible.
Whether in a quiet country town in South Australia or the skyscraper city of Singapore, Ben says it’s important for a meat pie to always be hot.
As for tomato sauce spilling onto one’s shirt mid-bite? Well, that’s inevitable.
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