Nikos Cakes in Oakleigh is not only the suburb’s favourite Greek meeting point, but the ever-giving and evolving labour of love of its owner and founders Nick and Tass Poupouzas.
Nikos Cakes is also a proud example of Greek entrepreneurship and values, taking a small family business from a single-fronted bakery shop to one of Melbourne’s most successful cake shops and cafes with the capacity to seat over 300 patrons.
The establishment is so popular that it is hard to secure a seat no matter what time of day or night you get there. The business is not only famous among members of the Greek community; its mouth-watering and intricately designed cakes are so sought-after that Australia’s top foodies and celebrities have to put their name down on an endless list.
Nick began his life in hospitality working as a waiter and kitchenhand at a young age. Keen to impress and seize every opportunity that came his way, at the age of 18 he was offered a partnership in one of the most iconic and busy cafes in what was then the ‘Little Athens’ area of Lonsdale Street in Melbourne’s CBD. It was there that he learnt the trade, skills, and techniques that would become his vocation. Chief among those skills was the art of pastry cheffing.
The year was 1987 when, rather than settling, Nick began to look for an outlet for his growing confidence and skills. He surprised everybody with the decision to head out of the CBD to the quiet suburb of Oakleigh. Many doubted the decision as at that time Oakleigh was very much a rural industrial zone. Even the leasing agent advised him that he would surely lose his money, but the vision was clear to Nick and his wife Tass, and Oakleigh, with its emerging Greek population would be the perfect starting point.
They believed that once they established an outlet for their baked treats the clientele would come, and to this day Nikos Cakes continues to draw customers in droves.
The business started as a single shopfront bakery at the top end of Portman Street in Oakleigh. It comprised a modest kitchen at the rear of the shop and a small display and seating area in the front.
Immediately word spread about the quality of the products, and the need for more room became evident. An opportunity to take over the adjoining premises presented itself and was swiftly taken.
Spanning two premises the business was more able to cater for its growing clientele and product range and the move proved to be a success.
Going from strength to strength it was clear that their future, and that of the business, was to remain in Oakleigh.
The area was slowly evolving from industry-based to retail so, knowing the importance of position, the decision was made to move Nikos Cakes to a more prominent location on Portman Street, closer to Eaton Mall.
The new premises were a breath of fresh air and with people starting to develop a taste for coffee, pride of place in the middle of the new shop was a shiny new espresso machine.
The shop seated close to 50 patrons and was full with people enjoying coffee and cake from the morning til the evening.
By then, the shop had grown not only in size but also reputation and whilst still catering for the locals, people started travelling from further afield to come to Oakleigh.
Ten years quickly flew by and it became apparent that more space would be needed. It was perfect timing for the family when the owner of the neighbouring dress shop was looking at an early retirement and without hesitation, the offer to occupy the premises was taken.
The position was incredible and overnight they had out grown even the new space. This resulted in another full refurbishment of the premises from the ground up and with the ability to now utilise Eaton Mall, a large outdoor dining area was developed with seating capacity skyrocketing from 50 to over 150.
People’s dining preferences had changed and a comprehensive variety of breakfast and lunch options were made available. All the baking and food preparation continued to be done on the premises, starting at the break of dawn each day.
After multiple renovations and expansions, the sheer size of the business was astonishing. The volume of coffee, cakes, and food that was being produced had nearly tripled and the atmosphere was bustling but still warm and inviting. It couldn’t be imagined that one day, this too would be outgrown.
Sure enough, in April 2010 Nikos Cakes would open its doors once again newly renovated and expanded.
Now comprising four separate properties, the most recent transformation is larger, modern and more comfortable and is capable of seating over 300 patrons.
This was the business’ fourth and most impressive renovation adding three offices and a beautiful showroom displaying their award-winning wedding cakes.
With the new development also came a change to operating hours and the business is now open well into the night due to customer demand.
Nick and Tass have never been one to rest on their laurels and are constantly reinventing the business to keep up with customer demand and expectations.
It is their belief that to be successful there must be constant improvement and development within the business to stay ahead of the times.
Beautiful cakes are the cornerstone of Nikos’, but also with a refined menu of breakfasts, lunch and dinner items, liquor and not to mention the best Greek coffee in Melbourne and a legendary galaktobouriko.
The original small cake shop has now evolved into a cafe that is the centrepiece of Oakleigh’s vibrant marketplace.
It is a popular topic of discussion among lifelong customers and locals who believe that it was Nick and Tass who put Oakleigh on the map with their iconic shop.
Since those early days, Oakleigh has flourished, with its main attractions being fresh food and an amazing cafe culture that is traditionally Greek in style and theme, but also embraces a totally modern approach.
“Freshness and quality is a philosophy within our walls and are key factors in the continual growth of our business,” Nikos and Tass Poupouzas agree.
One could say that this is the secret ingredient to their success.
“Everything on offer is produced fresh daily using only the best ingredients available,” they tell Neos Kosmos.
“We have devoted a great deal of time and effort over the years in order to source the best quality products and ingredients to produce our famous cakes. Once a supplier is found and trusted they are rarely changed.”
Tass and Nick’s ‘attention to detail’ approach has without doubt resulted in complete consistency in the finished product.
Over the span of 30 years, Nikos Cakes has gained a respected reputation and is often the meeting place of choice for many politicians, touring Greek singers and celebrities. One of the most memorable moments in the shop’s history was when former Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis visited Melbourne in 2008 and insisted on visiting Nikos’ after recommendations about the cakes. Nick and Tass say it was amazing to see the streets lined with thousands of people trying to get a glimpse of him, and they felt a great sense of pride that he chose to visit their shop.
Nikos Cakes is a family affair and the future of the business looks just as promising and vibrant as its past, with Nick and Tass’ children now learning and managing the business.
The passion for pastry cheffing is in the blood; youngest son Michael is now a qualified pastry chef, continuing the legacy by creating the cakes that made this business an institution.
The front of house is attended by Michael’s older siblings Yianni and Denise who make sure that the customers leave with a smile and their sweet tooth satisfied.
Tass Poupouzas leads an award-winning team of cake designers, consultants, pastry chefs and artistic decorators and produces some of the most unique and challenging designs for weddings, christenings, birthdays and engagements and has become the preferred supplier for many function and reception centres across Victoria.
“It goes without saying that it would not be possible without the extended family, and by this we are referring to the staff,” Tass and Nick emphasise.
“Our team has grown to comprise over 60 staff members, many of whom have been with us for over 10 years. It has been the passion and support of staff members past and present, which has helped make Nikos’ what it is today.”