Crusty's Bake House owners Geoff and Veronica Chaplin. Picture: Tara Miko
Crusty's Bake House owners Geoff and Veronica Chaplin. Picture: Tara Miko

The popular bakery that’s thriving but can’t find workers

CUSTOMER loyalty and an uptake in buying local has gotten Crusty’s Bake House through the worst of the pandemic.

It has not been without its challenges, however, with the business’s wholesale arm dramatically impacted when restaurants were forced to close down.

Owner Veronica Chaplin, who has run the popular bakery with husband Geoff at the Milton St location for 21 years, said the first two months when COVID hit were difficult.

Mrs Chaplin said the bakery lost about 30 per cent of trade, the required threshold to make the business eligible for JobKeeper and their workers for JobSeeker.

But then trade began to pick up with customers embracing the buy local ethos, rapidly returning the business to pre-COVID levels and then to its current trade which is about 15 per cent above regular figures.

“It’s going to be very interesting once this JobSeeker and JobKeeper starts going down a bit and what’s going to happen then,” Mrs Chaplin said.

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“Some of our staff – not all our staff – went on JobKeeper, mainly our full-time and part-time staff.

“But the other problem we had, like many businesses, is that you can’t get anyone to work because they’re getting paid too much money.”

The two schemes end on September 28, and because the business has grown, it needs more staff.

But Mrs Chaplin said that was proving nearly impossible with workers preferring JobSeeker over wages.

Crusty’s Bake House employs 12 staff, from part-time and casual to bakery specialists, and Mrs Chaplin said another three were needed.

“We’ve definitely gone back to what we were and probably another 10 to 15 per cent, hence why we’ve got to put staff on,” she said.

“It’s hard to find staff at the moment. We’re finding now that things have changed so much with staff.

“We were always wanting to put permanents on but we’re finding we’re better off to have more casuals and more part-time for the back-up.

“In the last, probably, six to eight weeks, there hasn’t been one week where we haven’t had a staff member call in sick or who can’t work for some reason.

“In the middle of all this, I got my knees done so I wasn’t here for two months. That put a lot of pressure on my staff.”

Locals turns to buying and supporting local at the height of the pandemic.
Locals turns to buying and supporting local at the height of the pandemic.

Mrs Chaplin said COVID changed people’s buying behaviours, with more opting to source their food locally from bakeries, butchers and fruit and vegetables stores outside the major brands such as Coles and Woolworths.

“Thank goodness we have such loyal customers and they’ve just stood by us and we’ve got a lot of new ones,” she said.

“It’s brought people in who have never been in before because (COVID) has made them do it.”

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Mrs Chaplin said the bakery paid about $15,000 in wages a fortnight, a figure JobKeeper covered during the pandemic.

But with the scheme ending on September 28 and business thriving, she said she needed more staff but was uncertain about the future.

“When I’m saying we really need another three staff, where we are is that we’re not game to put them on because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.

A surge in customers buying local has meant business has boomed for Crusty’s Bake House which now needs more staff.
A surge in customers buying local has meant business has boomed for Crusty’s Bake House which now needs more staff.

“ (JobKeeper) pay our wages, they help pay our GST and taxes and that’s all gone now and that’s been a huge help to us, and maybe that’s why we haven’t felt anything because we did get that help.”

Mrs Chaplin said she, like all business owners, needed a crystal ball to say what the future would hold.

“If we keep having the people flow and the restaurants keep doing as well as they are now, we will be fine,” she said.

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“If they start going down, they stop paying their bills so it’s just a vicious circle.

“When they shut down, a lot of restaurants owed us money but you can’t ask them for it because they’re not operating – where are they going to get the money from?

“So we have had to carry that and luckily we have been able to do but I don’t know if we can do it again without help from the government.”


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