Rachel is a new mum who runs a bakery cafe with her husband, Chris, in Jindabyne, regional New South Wales. She describes the Sundance Bakehouse as a place with a distinctive country feel, a place for family and friends where the locals keep coming back.
Rachel's background in hospitality led to her current job as business owner and floor manager at the bakery cafe. She began working at the Sundance Bakehouse as a casual shop assistant more than nine years ago, when it was under previous management. Six months ago Rachel and Chris became the new owners.
While the cafe caters for large groups of skiers in the winter, it is also a great place to go for a quiet cup of coffee. Locals return with their children, and their children's children; according to Rachel, this is what makes the Sundance Bakehouse a special place.
How did you come to run your own business?
The previous owner ran the Sundance business for about 18 years, and five years ago he offered my husband and me a partnership in the business. In 2007 the owner wished to retire and my husband and I bought the business from him in November of that year. We're well into our first six months managing the business together and this winter will be our first ski season as the owners.
It can be a lot of work but it's very rewarding. We work hard because we make everything in the store ourselves and we train all our staff. My husband is a baker so he looks after the three or four bakers we have and does the baking himself. I look after the cafe, managing anywhere between 12 to 25 shop assistants – 25 during the peak winter season and about 12 during the off-peak seasons.
There isn't really any specific qualification or training you have to have. I do have a background in hospitality and experience working in a few hotels, but most of my training has pretty much been on-the-job. Learning how to do things, how everything runs and trying to meet different people's needs.
Our specialities are pies – chicken pies to be exact – but we also make a lot of other baked goods such as Danish pastries, lemon meringue pies, special cakes and sausage rolls. We basically make everything we sell which is why we try to sell everything out by the end of the day. We don't keep anything overnight except one or two things that have a long shelf life.
We do cater for large groups of people and cater for events as well. There are a few businesses around here, like the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Snowy Hydro, which we do catering for. We usually make sausage rolls, pies, quiches and things like that for them.
It can get very busy in Jindabyne during the ski season. When it's busy, we have to step up to the challenge and work to the best of our ability – running around the place, serving people – so we can get people in and out. Once everybody has come and gone, everything dies down for a moment, just long enough so we can have a little breather. But the magic of retail is that customers tend to come in all at once and the rush starts all over again. Sometimes the line of people waiting to be served stretches from inside the store out onto the street. The hardest thing about that is trying to keep everyone happy as they wait. But people are generally prepared to wait in line because they like our products.
It's great to see the same people come back over the years. I've been working in the business for eight or nine years, so I see people coming back regularly to the cafe. They come back and bring their children with them – I see the children grow up. Skiing in Jindabyne is something people do with friends and family and the same people who come back to ski each winter also come back to the cafe. We're hoping to keep this tradition going.
The cafe is very much a family place – everything is fresh. Our pies, our coffee, our cakes are all made on the premises. That's why people keep coming back. I enjoy giving someone a good product; I know that what we sell is all good quality, and that's why it makes me happy to hear people say: 'thanks so much, that was great'.
One of the hardest aspects of running a business is looking after and maintaining the team. You have to look after their personal problems and try to keep personal conflicts to a minimum so that everyone continues to work together. We have some young girls working for us and sometimes their 'big' problems aren't that big, although they seem big to them. We try to work out any personal problems there may be so that the business can run smoothly.
There is a great deal of work involved with running your own business so my husband and I work a lot of hours. The cafe opens for 12 hours a day from 6 am to 6 pm, and I'm there for all the hours that it's open. There are peak and off-peak seasons so, if we work hard, train all the staff and are organised, we can get things done on time and then go on some really nice holidays. We can have two weeks off each year to relax where we don't have to think about work or receive any calls about work. We don't mind the work but when we're away, we like being away.
It's a bit of a juggling act trying to look after a baby and run a business. I have taken on more of a management role at the cafe now that the baby has been born. Before that I was working on the floor, serving customers and running the cafe. It is challenging working and being a new mum, but it gets easier as the baby gets older.
Going back to work in the first three months after having a baby is extremely difficult but now that he's eight months old, it's a lot easier to juggle both. When I'm working, I usually leave him with family. Sometimes I take him down to the bakehouse with me – he smiles at all the pretty girls so he's a big hit.