Pastry making is more than just a passion for Kyriakos Panayi, it’s his family legacy.
Panayi, who owns Christopher’s Cake shop in Sydney with his two brothers Peter and Anthony, comes from a long line of pastry chefs, including his father, his father’s brother and a long list of cousins.
A survey completed in the village of Kambi in Cyprus, where Panayi’s father Christopher is from, showed that 40 percent of pastry chefs in Cyprus have also come from that same village. Perhaps there’s something in the water in Kambi, but undoubtedly there’s something in the Panayi bloodline, as the tradition continues, with all three brothers now working in the business as trained pastry chefs.
Christopher’s cake shop was originally opened as the Athens Cake shop in 1955 by Chris Koumi. In 1972, Panayi’s father Christopher migrated to Australia and was given a job at the Surry Hills store. Fours years later the store became available to buy, which Christopher did, renaming it Athenaiko Cake shop and later Christopher’s cakes. In 1990 Christopher’s eldest son Peter left school and joined the business, the following year Panayi joined and then five years later the youngest son Anthony completed school and joined the cake business.
The Sydneyside brothers went on to open a store in Mascot, and a shop in Kogarah and just last week relocated their Mascot store, to a 200 square metre retail space; a huge upgrade from the original 44 square metre store.
“The business has grown and we’re looking at growing it a bit more,” Panayi says. Expanding interstate is also definitely an option, he adds.
Christopher’s cakes specialises in whole birthday cakes and making their own types of cream. “Our whole cakes are our biggest seller, the baked custard is traditional, we do well with biscuits and tsoureki at Easter,” he says.
Coming up to Christmas Panayi says modernity has replaced tradition. “We used to have a big trade in fruitcake, five or ten years ago, but now people buy birthday-style cakes and just put a Merry Christmas on there.”
Consumer demands have changed dramatically over the years, Kyriakos says. “People are more prepared to pay a bit more for quality. Twenty years ago the demand wasn’t there but now people are prepared to pay a bit more for a dessert, because it’s a treat, if you’re going to go all the way you will spend a bit more”.
While competitors in the trade try to reduce the height of their cakes, keeping the standard ten-inch diameter so all cakes look the same size, Panayi insists Christopher’s cakes have kept the traditional height of their cakes.
Flavours for Christopher’s cakes are all imported; the glaze is from Greece and the flavouring is from Italy, Panayi says, adding that inspiration comes largely from travel. “You need to travel because our pastry industry is at least 20 years behind. I’ve got apprentices going through the system and on day one they’re doing scones, which is not what people are after. It’s really behind, it’s so annoying. I don’t care if my apprentices don’t go to TAFE, they’re not learning anything there in my opinion,” he says.
There are 12 best seller cakes for this season, Panayi says. “The best one at the moment is the caramel fresh cream cake. It’s four layers of vanilla sponge, three layers of caramel Christofis cream and a caramel glaze on top.”