By Gretel Sneath
Two years ago, Mt Gambier’s Metro Bakery and Café was named the nation’s best bakery/patisserie at the Restaurant & Catering Association Awards.
Toni Vorenas heard the whispers from the crowd as the unsuspecting squad of South Aussies walked on stage.
“Everyone was saying ‘What’s Metro? Where on earth is Mt Gambier?” she laughs.
Just ask any Limestone Coast local and they will point you in the direction of this main street eating institution in the heart of the Blue Lake city.
Expect queues; the business now takes up five premises in order to cater for demand.
“When we opened at the end of 2009, it was my husband Theo’s dream to have a little coffee shop,” Toni says.
“We started from scratch and had no hospitality experience – Theo was a mechanic and I was a teacher – and we had a single room with one table, one coffee machine and five sandwiches on the menu.
“Now, we’ve expanded into the two shops beside us and one behind, added a bar, two commercial kitchens and an outdoor dining area.”
There’s also a second smaller venue, A Slice of Metro, at the eastern end of town, for customers on the go.
A former deputy principal, Toni counts many of her students among their 44 staff, but Metro has also attracted talent from much further afield, including three Filipino pastry chefs who have worked in Paris, Dubai and Sydney’s Star Casino.
“We advertised all over Australia for chefs without success, so then we turned to an immigration company,” Toni says.
“We are so lucky – they came with enormous skills and they are teaching them to our local kids.”
The Metro ethos is ‘one family’, and the staff are incredibly close. Toni and Theo have nurtured the sense of camaraderie with their strong focus on wellbeing.
“Last year we paid for yoga lessons, and this year we funded 10 weeks of boot camp; it’s not just about knock-off drinks, and that’s the old teacher in me,” Toni says.
“They have become one another’s closest friends.”
The sense of family extends to the customers, many of whom visit daily for a coffee fix, meal or take-away sourdough loaf.
Metro is the regular meeting spot for book clubs, park runners, mothers’ groups and live music fans, with a growing number of performers stopping by on their travels from Melbourne to Adelaide.
They all contribute to the Metro vibe, which Toni and Theo sum up by the Greek word ‘Kefi’.
It’s a vibe so powerful that many staff, including Toni, have the word tattooed on their skin, such is their devotion to this magnetic place they have created.
“Kefi means spirit and passion for life – that moment when you let go of everything that isn’t important and embrace everything that is – family, life, love, and joy,” Toni says.
“That’s what we encourage here.”
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