It’s no surprise to see American food outlets spreading their tentacles across Australia. It’s much more surprising to see an Australian food chain expand its reach to America. Bakers Delight has grown from a single store in Hawthorn, Melbourne, to more than 700 locations across Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.
The bread chain was founded in 1980 by husband and wife Roger and Lesley Gillespie. It wasn’t their first bakery enterprise. Five years earlier, along with a partner, Michael Sherlock, they had developed a chain of shops known as Old Style Bread Centres. The first of these was in Ashburton, Melbourne.
Roger Gillespie was a third-generation baker, but this first venture wasn’t designed for his own profit. It began as a way to help fund schools run by their charismatic yoga instructor, Vijay Yogendra. At the time, the three were inspired by the counter-culture ideals of the era and sacrificed income and time to contribute to the schools.
However, the Gillespies became disillusioned with Yogendra and broke away from his cult and the business. Old Style Bread Centres became Brumby’s in the early 1980s and the chain was purchased by Michael Sherlock when Yogendra’s cult became bankrupt. The chain continues today under the ownership of the publicly listed Retail Food Group (the people behind other chains like Donut King and Michel’s Patisserie).
In 1980, the Gillespies opened their first Bakers Delight in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn. Ten years later, through franchising, there were 20 stores. The first interstate Bakers Delight opened in Adelaide in 1991 and by 1994 the chain had expanded to New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.
It didn’t stop there. The next step was New Zealand, in 1995, and in 2003 the company expanded to Canada. With the existing name already owned by others in that country, the Canadian outlets became COBS Bread. The Gillespie family moved to Canada for some time to get behind the launch. In 2015, COBS opened its first store in the USA. They now boast more than 700 locations in total.
The Gillespies didn’t walk away from charitable causes. The company has been involved with Breast Cancer Network Australia for more than 20 years and has donated more than $20 million. Bakers Delight outlets also give away any bread left over at the end of each day to local charities and community groups.
The range of Bakers Delight products in Australia is huge. It’s divided into Everyday Classics (basically white bread and rolls), Healthy Solutions (seedy, Hi-fibre, Hi-protein and so on), Artisan Collection (think sourdough), Savoury (pastries and pizzas) and Sweet (fruity things and goodies with icing), plus a few seasonal specials such as hot cross buns, Christmas cakes and mince tarts. There’s every conceivable loaf, roll, scroll, pastry, pizza, scone, log and bun, including old-time favourites like the Boston bun and the coffee scroll.
One product in particular has become something of an Aussie icon – the legendary Cheesymite Scroll, introduced in 1994. “The distinct Vegemite flavour fused with melted golden cheese makes our Cheesymite Scroll a delicious and filling treat,” they say. It didn’t do so well in Canada.