The Australian outback country town of Boort is a long way from the big smoke of Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, it’s a long way from anywhere. But off the beaten path, over 155 miles from Melbourne (could say over 560 miles from Sydney), is where the owners and origins of the Australian Bakery Cafe can be traced and where, in the same hospital in Boort, two life-long mates were born 3 weeks apart.
Little did Mark Allen and Neville Steel know that their childhood bond would endure a lifetime and take them half a world away, introduce Americans to the Australian Meat Pie or open the original Australian bakery here in the USA.
In their early teens the two mates lost touch when Neville’s father sold their family bakery and moved from Boort to Berriwillock. Neville, a third generation master baker, grew up around the family trade and began an apprenticeship learning the traditional craft from his father who did everything “the old fashioned way”. Unbeknown to both of them, Mark had also decided to learn the trade and had taken an apprenticeship at the Boort bakery that had once been the Steel’s.
Then amazingly both boys’ apprenticeships coincided and had them start the same day in the same class at the William Angliss Food College, Melbourne, and so two long-lost friends once again reunited.
An intense rivalry between Neville and Mark quickly developed. Mark recalls, “Neville had me beat on theory, but I always pipped him on prac”. Out of 3000 boys from all across Victoria they became the No.1 and No.2 apprentices in the state, not only as expert bakers, but dough-makers and pastry chefs too. Simply put, after three and a half years they were the top team, the cream of the crop.
Mark was quickly snapped up by a big-time bakery in the big-smoke with a big problem. He was given the responsibility of developing Tip-Top Bakery’s Golden Crumpet for mass-production, something that had stumped the company for 8 months. After only a couple of months Mark had the magic formula and the production methods but felt it was time to trade in the modern stainless-steel equipment for traditional techniques.
In 1981, aged only 21, Mark bought a bakery in Pyramid Hill, not far from his hometown, and with another friend from Boort, Wendy Beyer, continued to hone his craft of pastry making, baking and developing meat flavour profiles. Together they did everything the “old way” mixing the dough by hand, along with throwing and catching bread tins in-and-out of an old-time ‘Scotch Oven’. Mark recalls, “The brick-oven was so big in Pyramid Hill we had a 22 foot long peel to reach down the back of it.”
Coming from a background in banking and finance Wendy assumed a role as the business director, along with “chief quality control”.
Then in 1991 Mark, Wendy and Neville’s culinary and entrepreneurial brains joined forces again, this time to open an American Rock & Roll restaurant in the Australian country town of Bendigo. Within weeks of opening, Chevy’s was an instant success and had been sold after the trio had received an offer to good to refuse. But another seed had already been planted. This time however, it was a little piece of Australia was to be taken to America. So Mark and Wendy ventured across the Pacific, to the land of the free, and introduced America to the Australian Meat Pie.
In December 2001 Neville and Mark reunited and the first Australian bakery was opened in North America. The Australian Bakery Cafe at Marietta Square quickly drew the attention of locals and Australian and New Zealand expatriates through the Southeast.
Being the only authentic Australian meat pie on the eastern coast, and the original Aussie bakery in the USA helped make the Australian Bakery Cafe an instant success. But as Mark explains it was their quest for quality that spread word quickly, “Early on we decided our goal was not just to make the best meat pies here in America, but to make sure they rival anything back home in Australia too.” In fact homesick Aussies all across America arrange travel plans just to receive a genuine taste of home. “Often people will say our product is as good, or better, than what they get back home. I reckon that’s a pretty big pat-on-the-back.”
The Bakery has also became a favourite of Aussie sport, music and movie stars as well as the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C. The demand for The Australian Bakery Cafe’s famous meat pies led to an online store. Along with over-the-counter sales the bakery ships dry-ice packed fresh-guaranteed Pies and other products nationwide everyday.
Today the bakery offers over 27 varieties of traditional and modern interpretations of the humble pie along with other savoury and sweet delicacies from down-under such as the Sausage Roll, Pavlova and Lamington.
So order online today, or stop in and say g’day to Neville, Mark and Wendy and enjoy our world famous meat pies from the original Australian Bakery Cafe.