South Otago bakery inspired to excellence by golden name

Gold's Bakery Balclutha owner-operator Richard Findlay.
Mary-Jo Tohill/Stuff

Gold's Bakery Balclutha owner-operator Richard Findlay.

How do businesses future-proof themselves? Richard Davison takes a look at older businesses in rural community to find out what keeps them ticking along.

What's in a name?

Well for one south Otago baker a longstanding local brand name has been both an inspiration, and a weighty expectation to live up to – and perhaps even surpass from time to time.

When you get the chance to represent a tried and trusted brand, you'd better make sure you're up to the job, Gold's Bakery Balclutha owner-operator Richard Findlay says.

"Gold's first opened its doors down the road in Romahapa in 1915. But it wasn't long before demand brought about a series of moves, eventually settling on Balclutha's Clyde St. In its heyday, they were employing three full-time delivery trucks, and processing a tonne of beef each week for their mince pies.

"It's fair to say they were a stronghold of baking in the district for many years."

With an eye on the next several decades, Findlay and wife and business partner Donna are acutely conscious of living up to – and doing their best to exceed – that pedigree wherever possible.

"We were very aware we were buying a piece of south Otago history when we took over, not just a business," Findlay said.

"We're conscious there's a name and brand there whose quality we need to maintain and respect."

One way that was being done was through the bakery's "famous" mince pies, nowadays also supplemented with additional flavours.

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"We discovered from [current Gold descendant] Bruce that we're still using the original mince pie recipe from 1915. Things like that are pretty wicked," Findlay said.

Paying further homage to Gold's award-winning past, the store – now on James St – has framed samples of original vintage bread wrap on display.

"The original John Gold won more than 30 medals for his baking, and became vice-president of the New Zealand Master Bakers Association in 1917, so he was pretty renowned for his ability."

With reputation half the battle for continued success in a small, local business like Gold's, the other big factor was customer service, Findlay reckoned.

"We're lucky to have amazing staff, led by [store manager] Kirsty [Collier], and we try and make sure we match the loyalty of our customers with loyalty in return. So if we have a new variety of cake coming on, we'll take a few samples to places like the hairdresser next door for them to try, and hopefully spread the word if it's a winner," he said.

Regular innovation, with the introduction of new items to the bill of fare, had helped develop a product list combining popular favourites with something for regular customers wanting to "change it up" occasionally.

"We have a fair few customers who literally use us for breakfast, lunch and tea, five days a week," Findlay said.

"So you can imagine they like a bit of variety every now and again. We always try and keep it fresh and interesting for all our customers."

Findlay also opened the Gold's doors during his bakery night shift, catering for south Otago's substantial population of shift workers – and the occasional midnight feaster.

"I heard the doorbell one night and came out to find a regular standing there in her pyjamas.

"She told me she hadn't been able to sleep for thinking about our red velvet cake, and had come in especially," he said.

"She went away happy. It's all about meeting the customer in the middle and giving them what they want."

With five children at home, commercial baking's classic night-time hours meant one of Findlay's biggest challenges was work-life balance.

"We open five days, which means I'm there six, really, with prep and so on. So although we'd like to open at weekends, it just wouldn't work from a family point of view," he said.

Starting out in baking at age 14, Findlay had never lost his joy in crafting "something special," despite an extended period away from the trade before acquiring Gold's in 2015.

That passion was key to anybody going into business, he believed.

"If you love what you do, you won't begrudge the hours you need to put in to get things established, and moving along in the direction you want. I'm lucky in that I genuinely love baking, and enjoy the direct, hands-on nature of the results you get every day you come to work."

Enduring hard work and enthusiasm for the cause had borne fruit, with the business doubling in size during the near three years the Findlays had been at the helm.

"The growth's been huge, and really beyond our expectations," he said.

"If anything, we're now a bit pressed for space here, so that might be something we take a look at down the track."

In the meantime, the recipe for future success was "business as usual," Findlay believed.

"South Otago people are fantastic – they'll always stop by for a yarn and let you know if something's working well or not. We'll just keep ticking along with our blend of the best of old and new for now."

 - Stuff

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