The Arthur Clive’s Family Bakehouse in Kalbar is one of three bakeries owned by the Pennell family, who have been baking in the Scenic Rim since 1936, when Herbert Pennell purchased a bakery in Boonah. Herbert’s son, Arthur, was a baker — after whom the bakeries are named — and his son, Russell, is a baker – who you’ll find working in the bakery to this day. Now, there is a tribe of Pennells working across the three bakeries at Kalbar, Aratula and Boonah, proud of their history and excited about the future of baking. (www.arthurclives.com.au)
AIDAN, JARED, RHIANNON & MARK PENNELL
How did Arthur Clive’s begin?
AIDAN: Our great grandfather, Herbert Pennell, purchased our first bakery in 1936 in Boonah. He was a potato farmer before that, I think, at Tarome. He came back after the First World War, settled in Tarome, moved into Boonah on Church Street, built a house and turned what was an old butter factory into a bakery with a big wood-fired oven. Then Pop — who was the Arthur Clive the bakery is named after — he started in the bakery at a young age. They operated the business out of Church Street until the 1960s, when they purchased a site on High Street, the main street of Boonah. I have a feeling they knocked down the building that was there and then rebuilt a bigger building, which housed a larger production site and a retail front.
We operated that business until the mid ’90s. We had also bought a bakery in Ipswich, and I think there was one up north that Herbert, our great-grandfather, had purchased. Pop died in ’91, so Dad took on the business from that point and, for its time, right through the ’80s and into the ’90s, the size of the bakery and the volume they were doing was far greater than what we do now. We were sending bread all over the place. It was crazy how big that business was.
We had the opportunity to buy the Aratula bakery in 2006. We started off in one little site with just two bakers, Dad and an apprentice, and they operated out of a little tiny oven. They could not keep up on their first day of operation. From then, we knew that site was always going to be a strong site. I think this site at Kalbar has been open about five years. It was just a natural progression.
Rhiannon bakes the cakes. Who runs the bakery?
AIDAN: Rhiannon is a fourth-generation baker. She is carrying the flame. Jared runs the production. He is in charge of what we make and the flavour profiles — all of those sorts of things.
JARED: Rhiannon and I meet every Thursday to decide what we’re going to do for the week. We make a point of catching up and setting out ideas — where we can grow our products, what’s on trend at the moment and going forward from there.
What is on trend?
JARED: I suppose the play on food; deconstructing food. Also, using local produce. A lot of cafes around the area — Gold Coast and Brisbane — make a point of utilising local produce, and that is where we are heading as well: using as many local products as we can source in our products. We don’t want to become a follower, but we do want to know what’s on trend and create our own trend. That’s solely for the purpose of putting us on the map and saying, ‘We’re here. We bake out of Kalbar, a town you probably don’t know, but this is what we’re creating.’
Where do your customers come from?
JARED: Kalbar’s tourist trade is growing, and I think it is because it is visually appealing — all those old buildings. And, not trying to blow our own horn, but I think we’ve created a destination. If we weren’t here, a lot of people wouldn’t come to Kalbar because they’d just drive through.
We have three sites, and Aidan and I have talked over the last couple of years about how we grow our business. Do we grow each shop the same way or do we work to our customer base? And we’ve moved towards gearing it to our customer base. I think that’s one of the reasons why this site’s grown: because we cater for our locals. In Aratula, probably ten per cent of our trade is locals and the rest are passing through, so we’ve designed it over there to grab your stuff and go. The trade in Boonah is different again. It is locals with tourists on the weekends, and the locals in Boonah have told us they want their daily bread there. Our artisan breads — the gluten-free and spelt — sell out in Boonah.
Why are gluten-free and sourdough breads popular?
JARED: I think modern bakeries that produce sandwich bread punch it out so quickly — because it is all machine-based — the gluten doesn’t really get to form in the bread. With our processes, it takes a lot longer to produce our bread, but I think even our plain white sandwich bread would be better on the gut than all of the stuff that is machine-baked. And that is because it is handmade, hand-formed, we allow it to rest and we allow the gluten to form in the bread. We still use commercial yeasts. Our natural leaven — it is based on rye flour. We find a lot of gluten-intolerant people use the sourdoughs and the spelt.
Is there a set fermentation time for the sourdough?
JARED: It depends upon the temperature. It depends upon Trevor — Trevor is our leaven. We’ve given him a name because he is as temperamental as. It totally relies on the environment. Dad is our magician of bread. If we give him an idea, he is always skeptical at the time, but then he starts enjoying it and it becomes a passion. When we first started, we just couldn’t get the sourdough to turn out. It took a good six months, I reckon, of just trying different things and trying to up the leaven itself. So, the sourdough — we call it Wild Sour — I think we have got it now to the stage where we can be happy with it. It is beautiful bread.
What inspires you as a sourdough baker?
JARED: Every loaf of bread we do — every sourdough — is formed by hand. It takes time. I think the love of food and the love of the process is what really inspires us to make our own products. We are passionate about creating stuff that people will enjoy. The reason for making food is to give people joy when they eat it.
What else are you making?
JARED: All of our pies are made with The Butcher Co meat. Where Rhiannon and I are going with our weekly meetings, we are stepping away from those generic bakery items that everyone pumps out, like apple turnovers. Where we are trying to take it now is, well, why can’t we do different-flavoured turnovers? Why can’t we do blueberry and raspberry turnover?
RHIANNON: We’re doing a spin on the traditional bakery items without moving too far away from them.
Do you work in the bakery too, Mark and Aidan?
MARK: I am pretty much the face of the business in Boonah. My role has been quite diverse. From customer service, to machinery breakdown, to deliveries, to troubleshooting, the whole lot. Baking … whatever needs to be done, gets done.
AIDAN: Mark is the guy who gets the call at two o’clock in the morning to say, ‘Something’s broken. Can you go and fix it?’ So, he’s the Mr Fix It. I am an accountant, and I was a stockbroker and financial advisor for years. I look at business from the numbers side. We have little sisters, who have all done different things, and our wives — everyone has a say and plays a little part in this business. At one point I think there were about fourteen family members working in the business between siblings and wives.
JARED: What brings our family together is the creation of the food.
What’s the future for Arthur Clive’s?
AIDAN: It will be more like a café. We want to keep the bakery spin, and that will never fade. What we found as we grew and grew, our story became too diluted. We just became another eatery. People would come in, grab a pie and walk away. And that’s not why we do this. We do this because we have a passion for our history. We have a passion for what we do.
JARED: Every day we’re open, our family stays together, if that makes sense. Pop, still, is working.
AIDAN: His legacy lives on. People like coming in and talking with someone who’s touched the product at some point in its production, someone who has a link to the story. The business exists because of the family unit staying together, but the business is actually the thing that keeps the family together at the same time. It is a circular thing. You take one out, and the other doesn’t exist. It is funny. We always view this as a legacy. We want this thing to be around for our kids and their kids.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
JARED: If we can give a shout-out to Dad, because Dad is the one we’ve skipped. He said, ‘You should have named the shop after me because I am still alive.’ So, we named a muesli bar after him: Rusty’s Rustic Muesli Slice. I send him on a holiday every now and then, but he rings us every day, seven days a week! As sad as it sounds, he’ll die down there, but he’s happy. You see him in the bakery — he loves it.
You all have a great deal of respect for your father.
AIDAN: Absolutely. And we get a lot of feedback from bakery reps who have been in the industry a long time, and they actually come to us to trial their products. They have a test kitchen and bakers on staff, but they bring it to Dad to see what he can make. They consider him one of the best technical bakers still around. It is a dying trade.