Nine years ago, Greek Australian Theo Vorenas decided to change career paths. After years of working as a car mechanic he started his own bakery, but he never anticipated that a few years later his Metro Bakery & Cafe in Mt Gambier would become one of the most popular bakery operations in South Australia.
“It took a lot of hard work, but it has certainly been an incredible journey for my wife and I, particularly because we both started in an industry we knew absolutely nothing about,” says 56-year-old Theo whose business received the SA Restaurant & Catering Award for Excellence as the Best Bakery/Patisserie in the 2016 Restaurant & Catering Australia Awards.
“With the support of our incredible community and talented staff, we [have] managed to grow and expand our little coffee shop from three to 45 staff, and we are still going strong,” he says.
Theo and wife Toni Vorenas, who also gave up her career as a deputy school principal to support her husband’s dream, started Metro Bakery & Cafe in 2009. Now, two stores later, they create 52 varieties of bread products and sweet delicacies.
“We opened as a little cafe selling coffees and sandwiches and since then the business has transformed, with employees that work around the clock to provide the best products and service to our customers,” says Toni, who remains passionate about education and training.
“We have some incredibly talented chefs who have worked all around the world including Dubai and Paris, and what they bring to us and to the young local staff who they are training is absolutely phenomenal. Working together and empowering them, particularly with my training background, is really important to me,” she says.
The Metro team is known throughout their city of 27,000 residents for baking highly sought-after products from scratch, servicing not just the Mt Gambier area but also establishing a strong presence across the state.
“It has been an incredibly rewarding experience, but for us the greatest joy and satisfaction comes from our customers when they walk through our doors each morning to purchase their bread or enjoy a coffee and delicious delicacies prepared daily by our chefs and bakers. Or simply when we all sit around and have a drink after a busy week whilst we enjoy some live Greek music,” says Theo, whose family originates from Thessaloniki and Corinth.
“Theo is Greek and I’m Sicilian, so food and music have always been part of our narrative and even though we don’t have a large Greek community in Mt Gambier, our customers love and embrace everything Greek. We make sure we keep the Greek spirit alive by bringing Greek bands and DJs from Melbourne.
“We teach everyone how to dance the Zorba, we smash plates occasionally and try to introduce the concept of κέφι to all of our customers.
“Our dream is to entice a Greek chef in making a seachange and coming to Mt Gambier, so that we can offer authentic Greek food in addition to what we already provide in our stores,” says Toni who attributes their cafe’s success to the relationship she and Theo have developed with their loyal customers over the years.
“We certainly take pride in what we do, but customer service is everything to us. We made a promise the first day we opened our store to treat all our customers like we would treat our own family and friends, making them feel at home each time they walk through our doors and it is our duty to honour that promise,” says Theo.
“Besides, everything tastes so much better when it’s served with a sincere and genuine smile.”