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Rutherglen bakery rises above the challenges

person preparing coffee beans for roasting

Valentines Bakery strengthened its business with a Regional Jobs Funds grant, helping it to expand.

Home-baked bread became a global obsession during the pandemic, especially sourdough.

But it’s usually better to leave it to the professionals.

2 loaves of artisan bread in a basketSuch as this family, who has turned sourdough into a thriving business over two generations.

Valentines Bakery in Rutherglen bakes around 600 loaves daily using a 54-year-old sourdough starter.

Ross and Kay Perry bought the business in 1991 and on their retirement in 2016, their children Harry (pictured above), Joe and Matilda took it over.

Its founding owner, master baker John Ribstein, taught Ross the recipe of traditional German sourdough baking, not common practice in Australia at the time.

It’s proved a canny, unique technique that has been confidentially passed down the Perry family line.

To take the business to the next level, the siblings successfully applied for a Regional Jobs Fund grant, which allowed them to develop a $1 million-plus renovation.

The resulting new facility – which has glass walls for customer viewing, (providing a tourism experience), expanded bakehouse production capacity and a coffee roasting operation – has created over 20 jobs for the area including baker, chef, marketing and retail roles. That’s a significant job contribution following job losses during COVID-19 in the local area.

“The government grant really helped us to undertake the much-needed renovations at the production site. We hope to have encouraged some young people to stay in a regional area, rather than having to seek employment in a larger city,” says Harry. “We’ve added a destination for locals and visitors to the region to meet and enjoy local products.”

Packet of white owl coffee blend surrounded by roasted coffee beansThat’s despite the fact that the pandemic significantly impacted the business.

“The first lockdown impacted us greatly as no one was really leaving their homes. We also rely on the tourist market, which has been pretty much non-existent during lockdowns. We did however help the local IGA by stocking bread when panic buying was happening.”

“We’re slowly bouncing back,” Harry observes. “As more tourists visit the region, we’re starting to get back to some normality. We believe there’ll be greater regional tourism this year as not many people will be able to travel overseas.”

Harry’s tip to other regional family businesses on how to succeed in tough times is: be prepared to put in hard work and long hours. Also, make sure you offer both takeaway and a home delivery service to give local customers the ability to purchase your product in a COVID-safe way.

“We love Rutherglen, that’s why we chose it as the site for our production facility. We look forward to raising our families here. It has great rivers and lakes, it’s a stone’s throw from the mountains and it’s a great wine region.”

What’s kept their business going strong for two generations?

Its return customers who go out of their way to get their hands on good sourdough.

“We have a very loyal customer base, including some who have been buying our breads for 30 years. I remember many of them when I was young helping in the bakery. We even get loyal Melbourne customers who take a freezer load of bread back with them whenever they visit - that’s a lovely feeling.”