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September 20, 2018

Red Door Bakery’s story is the story of Adelaide

In so many endearing, encouraging, frustrating and – ultimately – heartbreaking ways.

  • Words: Joshua Fanning
  • Photos: Tyrone Ormsby
  • Artwork: Joshua Smith

My finger hovered over the love-heart symbol on Instagram.

“It is with a heavy heart that we will be placing Red Door Bakery & Croydon Social in the hands of liquidators,” read the caption.

A moment like this shatters any illusion the Instagram love-heart is an authentic encapsulation of human emotion. I have love yes, but for this image?

For this message from a family whom I know and respect and admire and understand how hard the last two years have been, and yet how much harder they’ve worked and what they’ve sacrificed in order to keep their business, their livelihood and this foundation stone of modern Adelaide culture alive?

I couldn’t double tap it. I texted Gareth instead and this still felt hollow.

I first tasted Red Door Bakery at Queen’s Theatre at what was then called Bowerbird Bazaar. It was a Moroccan lamb sausage roll with chilli jam. It was otherworldly. It stands encased in a moment, in a memory, that vividly connects through myriad threads to the present day.

The magazine I was publishing at the time, Collect, had contra’d a six-page editorial feature on the Bowerbird Bazaar event for a stall at Bowerbird for the weekend.

The plan was for Collect’s editor – Farrin Foster – and I to set up shop, market and sell the $5.00, A5 magazine. But what happened was that we sold magazines and then took those pink Queen Liz’s across to Gareth and Emma Grierson at their Red Door Bakery stall and traded them for Angus beef pies, pork and sage sausage rolls, salted caramel bricks and D’Angelo coffee. It was a delicious trade.

Gareth and Emma are what a hackneyed phrase would wrap up as, ‘salt of the earth.’ More colloquially I’d call them dead-set-legends.

And one of the privileges of running a small business and building a small business at the same time as them was the trust and the transparency these two shared with me, both as a journalist and publisher and as a fellow business-owner.

Business is more than a transaction at the till.

The story of Red Door Bakery is so much greater than a post on Instagram or an article on CityMag announcing their new city location, or their pivot into pizza on Elizabeth Street with Croydon Social.

It is certainly more than this navel gazing editorial.

Red Door Bakery is Adelaide’s story. It is the story of the corner shop revival zeitgeist in South Australia. It is the story of the power of small business to develop a more conscientious consumerism and lead some of us away from the mirthless franchises and their nutrition-less bread. Red Door made sourdough an everyday option. Red Door elevated the great and noble meat pie and sausage roll to their rightful place in the upper echelons of Australian cuisine. The Red Door Bakery story epitomises this state’s great tradition of family-owned operations and proved that kids aren’t anathema to running a bustling business but are, rather, an asset.

But the Red Door Bakery story also tells of unbearable CBD rents and how hard it is to make money in the lunch trade in the city. The story of Red Door in the city may go so far as to prove South Australian’s love their bakeries so long as they’re situated in quaint country towns and on cosy suburban streets only.

Red Door Bakery and their local pizza shop, Croydon Social, are the story of on-demand, button-ordering food-delivery technology. Gareth once shrugged his shoulders talking to me about the significant drop in trade Croydon Social suffered after the launch of Uber Eats in South Australia.

But more than anything, Red Door Bakery is the story of government spending gone wrong.

The $800 million Torrens to Torrens project, which decimated the ordinary flow of traffic at the Port Road / South Road intersection and bankrupted its provider, York Civil, proved that governments truly do not understand the fine grain impact of their investments.

Free market libertarians would say this is the cost of doing business. Certainly the Labor Government promoted the jobs this infrastructure project was creating, all the while one of Adelaide’s most iconic streets and communities, which sustainably and independently employed hundreds of people, was ignored.

Something as simple as a sign and a right hand turn. Something as necessary as a percentage of $800 million being earmarked for rent-relief or marketing for neighbouring business. Something, anything to prove that politicians actually know anything about small business.

The emotional thing about reading of the demise of a great, local and owner-operated business isn’t the bittersweet memory of their delicious caramel bricks but the bitter pill I have to swallow that no matter how good you are and how hard you work – you are never fully in control of your destiny.

There was catharsis in that Instagram post by Red Door Bakery. There is so much love for the legacy and contribution of the Grierson’s to Queen Street, Adelaide and South Australian culture. There is so much heart – just not as an emoticon I care to double tap on a global content platform.

I think I’m going to have to write Mr and Mrs Grierson and their family a letter.

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