Career change: “I was a brick layer now I’m a chef”

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Patissier Geoffrey Michael

Regional patisserie Geoffrey Michael Patissier isn’t a typical pastry chef. His entire family are brick layers and roof tilers so growing up, he thought his career was set out for him. Life had other plans as when he discovered cooking, his career path changed.

Based in Albury Wodonga, Geoffrey’s passion for cooking led to him launching a patisserie. Born and bred in Albury, Geoff, 33, left home at the age of 17 to pursue a career in Brisbane where he first dabbled with cooking.

His passion for food has taken Geoff all around Australia, giving him the opportunity to work with some incredible chefs. Finally, he took his experience back home to Albury to start his own little patisserie. “Growing up I always watched Gordon Ramsey on TV,” he recalls. “I come from a rugby background, so I love that team environment.”

Geoff now makes everything in his shop himself; including croissants, Danish pastries, quiches, brioches, donuts, macaroons and a selection of petit gateaux. However, having a deft hand with pastry hasn’t always been his speciality.

“I dropped out of school at Year 10,” he admits. “Following that I worked at the meatworks, was a sales person, a brick layer and a roof tiler. Within two years, I worked in eight to ten jobs.” While trying to keep money coming in, he was also looking for any opportunity to cook. “I just fell in love with the people, the smell and the creative side of things,” he recalls.

“I just fell in love with the people, the smell & The creative side”

Starting a small business in Albury wasn’t smooth sailing. It took him almost six months to find an ideal shop to lease. “It took a lot of searching and waiting for something to pop up,” he says. “But the biggest thing in small business is finding the right staff and being able to keep them. It’s not easy to retain staff in a regional area,” he says. Currently, Geoff has two apprentices, one trainee and a few other employees that maintain the frontend of the store.

Being a small business owner opened many opportunities for business growth and expansion. The thing that Geoff says he loves the most about being a small business owner is the freedom. “Running a small business in my own town is great,” he says. “When people walk in, it reminds me of a school reunion. Everyone just knows everyone. And because I left Albury for quite some time, sometimes people come in and don’t recognise me!”

One piece of advice that Geoff would give to other small business owners starting out is to make sure you do all your planning efficiently. “Do thorough research because money just flies out the door,” he says. “Initially, I wanted to buy brand new equipment but it was going to cost me over $100,000. However, buying second-hand and leasing equipment bought my expenses down to $30,000.”

Geoff also emphasises the importance of researching the area you plan on opening in, and defining what your target market is going to be. “It’s crucial to have a product that people actually want,” he says. “You have to try to be a little different from the competition.”

Although running his own business has been stressful, Geoff says he has embraced being his own boss. “At the moment, I’m contemplating my next move,” he says excitedly. “Whether I should open up a pop-up store or a food cart. The options are endless.”

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