By Kirra Grimes
AFTER almost 25 years running arguably South Gippsland’s best-known bakery, the Kelly family is ready to move on.
Baker Jason Kelly and his parents and business partners Gilbert and Lyn recently handed over the reins to new owner Michelle Beggs, with Jason planning to permanently move to Queensland with his family and Gilbert and Lyn ready to enjoy retirement.
Recalling fond memories of the 24 and a half year journey, the Kellys estimated they’d employed more than 400 staff since purchasing the business, originally located at 105 Commercial Street, from Barry Connell in 1994.
“Probably more than two thirds of our staff have been school students and it’s been really rewarding helping them develop skills for their future employment,” said Lyn, reflecting on her highlights.
“I’ve had a few over the years that have come back and said it was a great learning experience for them, working for us, that it helped them get a job when they moved away.
“That always makes you feel like you’ve achieved something to help some kids along the way.”
For Jason, the biggest reward has been training apprentices and seeing them excel.
“I’ve had two apprentices – David King and Mark Coulter – who won awards and represented Australia overseas. David’s been with us for 14 years and he’s now the manager out the back.
“So, the biggest reward for me has been training them up and seeing how good they become at the end of it.”
After a stint in the old Coles building at 63-67 Commercial Street, and a three-year battle with the South Gippsland Shire Council, the Kellys demolished several old buildings to open the bakery and cafe at its current location in 2007.
But it’s not just the shop’s location that’s changed over the years.
From the decline of bread sales, to the rise of electricity prices, the Kellys have adapted to plenty of other challenges.
“Shopping habits have certainly changed,” said Lyn. “A lot more people used to come and buy their bread, but now everyone wants to go to one place and buy everything. It’s the same with fruit and vege shops or butchers.
“There used to be four butchers in town, and there’s only one now. The supermarkets squeeze everyone out, which is always a shame.
“We get a lot of support from the locals but bread sales have dropped over the years,” said Jason.
“Every year, it’s gotten a little bit worse. And that’s because of the supermarket. Everybody’s time poor now. Both parents are working just to try to pay the mortgage, and you just can’t compete with a one-stop shop.
“So, you’ve got to diversify. The old days of just having a little bread shop or a little cake shop or a little pie shop – you’d struggle to make a living.”
According to Gilbert, utility costs have gone “through the roof” and it’s only by installing solar panels that the Kellys have been able to keep them down.
“I can remember when our bill used to be about $2500. That’s not that many years ago. And then we put 50 panels on the roof and about that time, electricity went up, so it stayed at the $2500, so then we put another 50 panels on the roof, and now it’s about $3080. So, goodness knows what it would be if had no panels on the roof,” Gilbert said.
Another big change to contend with has been a huge increase in administration work, through “relentless” compliance checks from government departments.
“There’s so much more work in the admin side of it now to what it was when we first started,” said Lyn.
“That’s probably the biggest change I’ve seen: in how you’ve got to handle your business. Between the Bureau of Statistics, WorkCover and the Health Department, it just creates more work for us and ends up costing a lot more to run a business,” she said.
“We didn’t even have refrigerated display counters in the beginning, but now people are always coming in to check that you’re doing this and not doing that. Nobody ever died before!” added Gilbert.
Though the business has remained strong and the bakery has consistently won awards for its range of pies, the decision to put Kelly’s on the market in October last year came as Jason found it increasingly difficult to split his time between his wife and children in Queensland and the business in Korumburra.
“I still love what I’m doing and I still love the business, and if my family hadn’t moved to Queensland, I probably would’ve stayed for another 20 years,” said Jason.
“But I’ve been travelling back and forth for the last two years. I was trying to do two weeks on two weeks off, but you’ve got to really be here full time to run a business properly.”
So, what’s next for the Kellys? Gilbert and Lyn will be staying in the area, with Gilbert looking forward to spending more time tending to his sheep and cattle at their Nyora property and Lyn hoping to travel more and enjoy more time with the grandchildren.
Jason will be staying on at Kelly’s for the next six months to help new owner Michelle manage the transition, before permanently relocating to Queensland.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” said Lyn. “We’ve enjoyed the journey and just the achievement of what we’ve done. We’ve built it up from a little bakery and progressed it up to what it is today.
“I think we’re all proud of what we’ve done for not only ourselves but for the town. Because the bakery’s known far and wide and it brings more people in to stop in the street.
“But because now we’ve sold, I’m ready to let go. And I’m at a retirement age, so as much as I’ll miss the staff and customers, I won’t miss the headaches that come with it!” she said.
“It probably won’t hit me until they say they don’t need me anymore,” said Jason. “The last few days, it’s been good to just come and do a job that I enjoy doing and not have to worry about the things that go wrong.
“I’ll probably have more emotions when I know that I don’t have to come back here anymore. There’s no doubt that I’ll miss the staff, so whether I do something stupid and open another bakery in Queensland… I’ll probably get divorced if I do that!”
The Kellys wish Michelle every success in taking on the business and thank all their loyal customers for their support over the years.
“Most of all, we thank all our staff, past and present, who helped us throughout the journey,” said Lyn.