George Diakomichalis has been serving authentic Greek cakes and pastries for more than 25 years in Adelaide. He chats about why he loves his job, why the traditional methods are best—and why he closes his doors every Sunday to spend time with his family. By Lynne Testoni
Fourth generation pastry chef George Diakomichalis and his wife Eleni believe in doing things the right way—even if it takes longer and costs more. But it has paid off. For more than 25 years, the couple has been selling traditional Greek cakes and desserts from their Adelaide patisserie, Kalymnos Pastries, to a devoted regular clientele.
So tell us about your business.
We specialise in traditional Greek cakes and desserts, which we sell through our cafe and patisserie that has been here in Adelaide for 26 years. We’ve got about 40 lines of products that are all made fresh daily.
I understand you developed a new business during COVID?
We released the Bake with George range last November—it was our COVID baby. The products are in supermarkets and specialty stores around Australia, so they can be purchased there or delivered to your door through bakewithgeorge.com. They are designed to make traditional baking easy for people to do at home. We’re really, really proud of it. It’s gone really well interstate and we’re about to launch in the US, which is absolutely fantastic. It just creates an opportunity to be able to make traditional recipes at home and make the novice baker bake like a professional. I believe food is a vehicle that keeps families and friends together in every situation. If the smell of beautiful baking fills your neighbourhood, that’s awesome. To have a kid do that with his mum or dad—that’s something really cool.
Have you always been in hospitality?
I opened my business in 1995 in Adelaide after I completed my training over in Greece, in our family’s businesses. I am a fourth-generation pastry chef. My great grandfather started our family business back in 1918 in Kalymnos, which is the island that both my parents are from. The family now has four stores in Greece that my cousins run. The original one is the one where I did my training under the guidance of my grandfather and my two uncles, who are my mum’s brothers.
But you’re a first generation Australian?
Correct. My mum’s family were the pastry chefs. My dad migrated here when he was 11 years old with his parents and his siblings. He went back for a holiday to Kalymnos, Greece, when he was 25, met my mum, they got married and they came back. It’s a good old school family business story, because of the help my parents gave me in the beginning—my mum came in and supported me in the kitchen. I was a very young man with a lot of energy to burn, but not a lot of experience behind me. My dad was a bank manager, so he supported me in setting up the business and helping me get the loans that I needed and everything else. The family definitely gave me a good solid grounding as far as understanding work ethic and being able to keep going.
Was the patisserie a success straight away?
We’re very blessed. When we first opened, we were an instant hit, especially amongst the people of Greek heritage, because my mum’s family had a great reputation over in Greece. So people knew that and they instantly came, and then we slowly grew our clientele. We had a lot of Greek customers because we had a Greek background. But Australia is a beautiful melting pot of so many different cultural backgrounds that it’s grown from there. And it’s just a beautiful traditional product that we take pride in making fresh daily. It’s about old school flavours, which are the ones that stand the test of time; recipes passed down through generations. To be able to hand these flavours and recipes from the generations above to people in our current generation and the future generations is an honour. It’s a responsibility and about keeping traditions alive.
What are the challenges in running your business?
We work very hard and face the same challenges that everyone has in business. It’s one thing to love what you’re doing, but staffing is definitely a very big issue in our industry. It’s hard to find people to complement our champion team. We find it almost impossible because people don’t want to work. It’s crazy. I don’t actually understand it; there’s work there. I don’t know what the answer is because it’s a labour-intensive industry. We’re very lucky that we have a very strong team. My wife Eleni and I work in here; it’s very full on. And we try to lead by example because we love our team. There’s not too many of these styles of businesses that have been around as long. They end up closing down, because they are struggling to maintain the business; they can’t keep going, because it just runs them down. We’re very lucky at the moment because I’m at the age where I have a lot of experience that’s built up and still have energy and enthusiasm. And the fact that I work with my wife is actually such a blessing because we understand each other as far as what is required with work.
How do you balance a successful business and family life?
We make a point of closing on Sunday, because we insist on keeping that old school mentality alive, that idea of keeping Sundays free. And that translates to our staff. We do something family orientated every single Sunday with our extended family and that keeps our core strong. I think there is the pressure on the small business owner to be available seven days a week and put in long hours. But we just made the choice to close Sunday and that is probably a large reason as to why we’ve been able to keep fresh and keep going as well.