“I always say to mum and dad, you should have had more kids!"
Denise explains how a small bakery in Oakleigh became a Melbourne Institution.
"It’s in our blood. We love it like a family member."
Lunch is over and it’s two in the afternoon, but Nikos Fairfield is still buzzing with young and old alike enjoying a leisurely weekend. Whether it’s for takeaway desserts, to sit down for a meal or just a coffee and cake, they’ve got everything you’re looking for and more.
An extension of the original store in Oakleigh, Nikos Fairfield is run and managed by the same family of Greek-Australian entrepreneurs that started the family over 32 years ago. One of three kids, Denise, together with her brothers Yianni and Michael continue the legacy of their parents Nick and Tass. They’re not just content to stick to desserts though, as Denise tells us more about what makes business run.
A family business
“Our parents didn’t really give us much choice to sit at home on the weekends, it was - ‘you are coming to the shop and helping in any way possible. It started with folding cutlery and making boxes for the cakes. We then got promoted to working on the dishwasher, and from there to serving behind the counter, learning to use the register and work on the floor. “
The siblings have grown up with Nikos, and it’s now become a part of their lives and who they are. “We’ve worked every inch of the business to know exactly how it runs and today we’re at the stage of managing these locations. Yianni is the General manager, Michael does the pastries and I’ve taken over the specialty cakes - we’ve all got our own roles.”
Building from the ground up, and seeing the business grow through the years, the family does not take their success for granted. “We’re very lucky to work with each other. We don’t argue and our teamwork is great because we’ve done it together for so long. It is nice to come to work and get to see your family every day."
“It came naturally to us, we all went to school, and had the chance to decide what direction we wanted to take our careers, but we’ve all eventually come back to the family business. I always joke with mum and dad, you should have had more kids! Why did you only have three kids, we need more help!”
Pushing the boundaries
After years of growth, the Nikos team have broken new ground with a second outlet in Fairfield. “We opened Nikos Oakleigh in 1987 and for years people were asking for us to open another store. When this location became available, we felt the timing was right.”
They might have had humble beginnings with Greek sweets, but Nikos have expanded their range to include specialty cakes, and pastries. “My dad originally had one small store and it was more of a bakery with continental cakes and traditional sweets and biscuits. Mum began experimenting with specialty cakes and suddenly people would come in asking for a wedding cake. The creations started to get bigger, with more detail; personalization, customization and novelty - and it has evolved since then. We’re now creating works of art and pushing the boundaries of what cakes can be.”
Also new to the Fairfield outlet – a modern Greek menu offering, and an expanded range of French patisserie. “We have two new chefs’ with Head Chef Natalia Gaspari in the savory kitchen creating mouthwatering Modern Greek cuisine, and Head Pastry Chef Michael Germanos taking the sweets offering to a whole new level with a new range of desserts. It’s something very different which our customers have never seen us do but it is part of always trying to expand and try new things. We’ll find out what works and how far we can push to achieve greater heights.”
Fairfield is clearly a big step for the Nikos team with combined operations taking the total head count to 150 staff. Their sense of community and corporate culture ties back to the importance of their Greek heritage and family identity. “When we found this opportunity in Fairfield to do a large kitchen, we wanted to offer food with a focus on sharing plates. It’s usually a big group of family and friends coming together and sharing a meal, and now with this space we now can host people, cater to celebrations and people coming together”.
The importance of quality and service
It’s clear to Denise what the priorities are at Nikos. “Our number one focus is a quality product. Everything from cakes, to food and service is the best we can offer so we can give the customer something to enjoy.”
Prioritizing quality and service is always a determining factor for them. “As our business evolved, the equipment had to evolve with it and that’s why we went to Flexikitch. Not only do they supply beautiful fridges and cabinets, but they were accommodating to our needs. We’re not equipment specialists but Flexikitch helped us bridge that gap in knowledge.”
“You’re investing a lot of money into equipment and you want a supplier who makes you comfortable with your decisions and advises you on what to buy. Flexikitch was with us each step of the way and found the most appropriate equipment for the job. The service is always there and they’re happy to be involved. We call them if we need help, and they’ll get back to us with solutions.”
The family have big dreams but are focused on perfecting their craft first. “Who knows what’s next, we can’t even think about what’s next yet! We’re still finding our feet with our second location. With food, it’s very different and we want to master that first.”
It’s clear though who will be leading the way. “We’re at the point where we’re starting our own families and have babies on the way. It’s exciting and we’ll see what the next generation does!”