Interview with Craige Gravestein, Director of Toowong French Patisserie
Could you tell us about the history of Toowong French Patisserie?
The Toowong French Patisserie opened 31 years ago in the same Cat & Fiddle shopping village that it is currently located. It was founded by three brothers, all pastry chefs, from Bretagne in France. It was the very first and only French patisserie in Brisbane at the time. They were offering very new and unique products to Australians and you could see a 25-person strong line in front of the shop every Saturday and Sunday. The competition his now much stronger than it used to be, due to both the opening of other French bakeries in town and the opening up of Sunday trading, however we have many loyal customers, people who used to come with their parents and who now are bringing their kids for a family outing or even interstate visitors who specially come to Toowong to get one of our croissants, chocolate éclairs or petits fours. We are a destination business, which means most of our clients make a conscious decision to come to us. Of course, we also have the uni students living in the area and the workers getting their coffee and lunch on their way to the CBD, but our success is based on reputation based on quality and affordability, not location.
My brother Justin was the first of the family to get involved in the business. He started to work here as an apprentice fairly soon after the opening. After 4 years of training, he became a pastry chef himself. During those early years, he had the opportunity to develop his skills and learnt directly from the Rand brothers all their French recipes. In 1998, after about 10 years working side by side with them, Justin bought the business when they decided to sell and go back to France. In 2005, I joined the business and it really become a family business with my daughter, my brother and I all working here. Part of our staff feels also very much like family, like Anthony our bakery manager, who has been with us for 9 years, or Andrew, one of our bakers with us for 13 years. I run the patisserie in parallel with Xponential Philanthropy, my other company which raises millions of dollars for charity.
How would you concretely describe the core activity of Toowong French Patisserie?
Toowong French Patisserie aims at producing authentic fresh French pastries. All our products are made at our premises from scratch and without any preservatives. Our range of French pastries goes from the classic plain croissant to the delicate macarons (which are gluten free), along with almond custard croissants, fruit flans, lemon meringue, chocolate and coffee éclairs, mille-feuilles as well as delicious savoury quiches, croque-monsieurs and petits fours. Of course we also offer some classic sandwiches and pies to meet the basic Australian market needs.
Our best seller is our ‘100% pur beurre’ croissant. The difference between an authentic French croissant and just the usual Aussie attempt is that we use 100% butter and use the folding rather than the mixing of the dough technique. Using margarine or other fats inevitably compromises the taste and texture, which is everything! We want to offer our clients an authentic French experience.
Our second best seller is our high quality coffee, followed by our pies, pork rolls and petits fours in fifth position. We also create some of the best tasting and sophisticated cakes. They are iced in real buttercream, ganache, cream cheese frosting or plastic icing. They are decorated in a variety of ways with lashing of buttercream, waves of real chocolate, almond flakes, chocolate buttons, silver cachou decorations etc. Our customers really appreciate our cool bridal tasting suite, where they can get the chance to see and taste all of them.
Our signature product remains the croquembouche, a pyramid of cream puffs covered with toffee. Our croquembouches are ordered to celebrate special occasions like birthdays, engagements, anniversaries, weddings or even Christmas and are all customised according to the occasion. We do an average of 10 of them per weekend. About twice a year, we produce our signature product the Grand Croquembouche for corporate clients. With its 2 two meters in height, our Grand Croquembouche is a big statement for a big event. Certainly something to remember!
Can you describe your personal background and your role as Director of Toowong French Patisserie?
I grew up in Brisbane in a family with a typical Australian background and a Francophile inclination. I have always been interested in French culture but my primary career is in philanthropy. I am the Director of Xponential, a fundraising company which raises funds for not-for-profit organisations throughout Australia and New Zealand such as the Ronald McDonald House Australia for whom we successfully raised almost 16 million dollars. A team of 16 people across Australia and New Zealand assist me in this enterprise.
At Toowong French Patisserie, I manage a staff of 12. That said, as I am away in Sydney and New Zealand at least two weeks every month, I really rely on my shop and kitchen managers for the day-to-day running of the operations. They are all competent, experienced, loyal and reliable people. This is the key of a successful business. My job is really more about business development and quality control. Wherever I am, I can actually see what is happening in our premises thanks to a live feed received directly on my Ipad.
Over the years, I also got involved in Property investment. I am good at business and that is why (beside family and my love for France) I got into Toowong French Patisserie to support my family. Since I completely took over the management in late 2012, the business has achieved steady growth, which continues to build.
How do you envisage the future of your association and how can FACCI help you achieve your objectives?
I have plenty of new projects for Toowong French Patisserie and we are anticipating a big growing phase. Firstly, we have invested in an amazing Bezzera Eagle Dome Italian coffee machine and are remodelling the shop to create a coffee bar. This will be operational by the beginning of November, just in time for the launch of our ‘SMS Order Coffee’ service. This is a new strategy to tap in the flow of commuters who drive thought the main road next to our shop on their way to the city every morning. Our amazing Italian coffee, orderable via SMS, will drive new customers, who will likely end up leaving with savoury products for their lunch. Once we have a new customer, we know that he will be come back either for a bag of croissants on the weekend, a birthday cake or a croquembouche for a special occasion.
This November, we will also launch our new website which will be a real online boutique with delivering services. Nowadays it is all about saving time! Thanks to the new website, customers will be able to easily order food and be delivered at work during the week or home over the weekend. We have created different packages for breakfast or lunch time meetings, corporate events, afternoon teas or cocktail parties. We are planning to hire a new chef just to answer to the demand generated by our new online selling platform.
In addition to those projects, we are also planning the opening of two new shops in 2016. The first one should open in June 2016 in the southside of Brisbane, and the second one in November 2016 in the northside of Brisbane. Obviously this will require the hiring and training of extra staff and FACCI can help us passing the word around especially for the recruitment of French-speaking sales persons. Note that we are seeking people with permanent work rights in Australian in order to build a strong team.
Of course, the Chamber can also help us promoting our new ‘SMS Order Coffee’ service and new Italian coffee machine, and more importantly our new website and corporate catering packages to its business network. We will also keep trying attending some of the many valuable networking events offered throughout the year by the FACCI. We look forward to participating to the upcoming Small Business Showcase on the 5th of November.
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