Cold winter days like today make me just want to snuggle up under a doona binge-watching TV series and eating comfort food.
Ah, comfort food – the stuff that takes us back to our childhood – when treats from the bakery were vanilla slices and jam tarts with not a sniff of salted caramel in sight. As for school lunches, it was a special day when you were allowed to order a basic meat pie for lunch. With tomato sauce, of course.
So you imagine my delight when daughter Veronica took up an apprenticeship this year at Brighton’s oldest bakery – WILD HOLLY. Now this is a store where baking traditionalists will be in pure heaven. It’s been running since 1937 and while much has changed over the years, what comes out of the kitchen still has lashings of good old-fashioned quality and style.
Come with me and I’ll take you on a trip down the foodie world’s memory lane. But be warned – you’ll be drooling.
Owner and head baker Brett O’Callaghan says WILD HOLLY is not only Brighton’s oldest bakery, but the second oldest business in the suburb overall. His father, Brian, began as an apprentice baker with the first owner, Mr Perry, as a teenager. No one can remember Mr Perry’s first name – apparently he was never called anything else.
While the shop has moved from several locations over the years, it’s been in its current position at 389 Bay Street, Brighton, for the past forty years. Brett has been at the helm for about ten years and we chatted about how the store has maintained its success.
JEN: I guess a lot of Wild Holly’s appeal comes from the fact that you still carry a lot of traditional cakes people can’t find anywhere else?
BRETT: Yes, we do a lot of older-style cakes, biscuits and pies – traditional stuff that we make on the premises. We make everything here. There’s only one biscuit we out-source and we make just under 200 lines.
JEN: Wow – that’s a lot of cooking! How many staff do you have?
BRETT: We have eleven staff with four bakers out the back, including myself and the rest are shop staff. I trained under Dad. Left school and didn’t know what I wanted to do so Dad said, ‘You can’t be a bum and come and work for me.’ So I did and eventually fell in love with it. Did a four-year-apprenticeship then worked at several other places but came back and managed the shop for a couple of years with Dad but that caused a few hiccups because we had some different ideas about how to do things. Then I went and opened up my own bakery in Hampton for twelve years, then moved to Sydney for ten years then came back and bought this off my father and have been here ever since.
JEN: Was you Dad a hard taskmaster?
BRETT: Oh yes, he was. He had high standard and an ‘It’s my way or the highway’ work ethic. He was President of the Bakers Association of Australia and went overseas, representing Australia in various competitions. And he still offers advice.
JEN: What drew you back to the business?
BRETT: Basically dad was getting older and wanted to sell. I wanted to keep it going too so bought it from him and it’s been mine ever since.
JEN: Do you ever think about updating the style of cakes and pastries?
BRETT: I like to keep it as traditional as possible, using the recipes and the old-style way they’re made. We do make some new things – especially because of the cooking shows – and will give a few things a crack for a while but our clientele prefer the traditional stuff. The older-style biscuits are extremely popular. And the kids love the cupcakes and the older customers love the old-fashioned sponge cakes.
JEN: I love the cupcakes! Do you vary the designs?
BRETT: Yep, we do pigs and cats, frogs, faces. Easter we do little chickens and at Christmas we do reindeer and snowmen, then ghosts for Halloween, so there’s a bit of variety.
JEN: Christmas must be a busy time for you?
BRETT: Yes, we do Christmas puddings and cakes. We even started up Christmas cooking classes last year that were really popular, so we’ll start them up even earlier this year, around September or October.
JEN: How have your worked in such business for so many years with so much lovely food around you and not become fat?
BRETT: (laughs) Well I was very fat once, but decided I couldn’t go on like that so started physically training a lot – running and swimming and bike-riding – so that helped.
JEN: But do you still eat the cakes?
BRETT: Oh, yes, I have to. I need to try everything. I mean, if an apprentice puts too much salt in something – which doesn’t happen a lot – I need to know. So I need to check the flavours.
Of course Brett would NEVER be speaking about Veronica, because it seems likes she’s doing pretty well. Most importantly, she loves her work – even though she starts before dawn. For us, it’s always a great day when she brings home extras to sample. Especially the meat pies! Now that’s something I can never say NO to.
So there you have it. If you’re looking for some respite from all those high falutin cooking shows and fancy pants restaurants and are hankering for a taste of the best from yesteryear – now you know where to go. Yep, Wild Holly. Still serving it up as good as it was nearly eighty years ago. YUM!
FOR ENQUIRIES, PHONE WILD HOLLY ON 9596 4915 or visit the shop at 389 Bay Street, Brighton.