Writer: NELLY SKOUFATOGLOU, from NEOSKOSMOS
Newly-launched Greek Bakery in Oakleigh invites us to try its traditional Thessaloniki bagel straight from the oven.
“I have been in Australia for five years, but it wasn’t until five months ago that my two partners and I got Greek Bakery up and running,” says Despina Genimaki from Oakleigh.
“I guess what’s always been missing from our everyday life was the smell of freshly-baked Greek bread in the morning and traditional, mouth-watering flavours to make us feel like home.”
Despina Genimaki followed her Greek Australian husband to Melbourne when the first major problems stemming from the Greek crisis affected their family life. She knows the beauties of her country will always be there, waiting for her, but misses her “favourite people”.
“I will never regret my decision, though,” she explains to Neos Kosmos, painting Australia and its people in the most beautiful colours.
She spent her first years in Melbourne taking care of her two young children. Even though she cooked traditional Greek recipes every day, she occasionally would miss koulouri Thessalonikis (the thin, crisp ‘Greek bagel’), Margarita (daisy) bread rolls, Trigona panoramatos, phyllo cheese pies and the original spanakopita, which is their best seller. Living in the heart of Melbourne’s Greek community, she realised she was not the only one craving some homey delight.
The idea of an authentic bakery serving Hellenic goods started formulating in Despina’s head and it was only a matter of time before her brother-in-law and a newly-arrived Greek friend joined in.
“I want to create a place that people will know has constantly been improving since day one,” she explains, expressing her gratitude to the people who have embraced Greek Bakery and who keep supporting her newly-launched venture.
“I chose Oakleigh because people come here from all over Melbourne to try the food and shop at the deli-markets. Why not add traditional Greek baked products to the equation?”
Greek Bakery turns its oven on at 12.30 am for preparation and baking and opens its doors at 6.00 am, selling delicacies until six in the afternoon seven days a week.
“We make everything from scratch, by hand. Phyllo, pastry, yeast, everything. If it’s not the best, it won’t make it over the counter,” Despina stresses. “If we wouldn’t eat it, why should the customer have it?
“My shop is made up of people who love the idea; people who love what they do. You can taste the love in our products!”
Love for Greek-style confectionery is what made the Greek Bakery owners seek the right people to staff their business in Greece, or among newly-arrived Greeks.
“I want my staff to be familiar with the kind of product we aspire to offer. I wouldn’t have a problem hiring a French, Chinese, Aussie, Indian baker, but they wouldn’t know how to recreate the taste of Greece. How to make the perfect ‘sfoliata’ that crumbles and melts in your mouth at the same time.”
The bakery is open to any order, within the spectrum of Hellenic cuisine. Despina and her staff will do their best to recreate a Greek recipe, as long as they have the means. Demand is so high, they even take phone orders from people who wish to ‘reserve’ a Thessaloniki bagel, fresh melomakarona or kourambiedes.
With Greeks turning up from all parts of the city and regular clientele spanning from Aussies to “pretty much every nationality one can think of”, Despina dreams big. The former graphic designer and accountant would love to see her business expand into more areas.
“I’m channelling positive vibes. It would be wonderful to sway Melbourne into our fantastic world of Greek deliciousness, at the same time creating jobs for more people.
“Maybe the success behind our concept is how true we have remained to our aunts’ and grandmothers’ recipes. Our flavours, speak straight to the heart and evoke memories interwoven with the Greek identity. They touch home.”
Greek Bakery is located at 53A Portman St, Oakleigh, Victoria. For more information, call (03) 9042 3272.