Times change but not the quality

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Over the past 70 years, three generations of the Greaney family have stood behind the counter at Peter Pan Bakery and Cafe. Rebecca Ryan takes a look back at where it all began.

Tucked away in Eden St lies a sweet piece of family history.

The Greaney family has been luring customers into the Peter Pan Bakery and Cafe with cream donuts, custard squares, pies and a wide variety of other baked goods for the past 70 years – a milestone worth celebrating, John Greaney said.

John took over the business from his father, Kevin, 34 years ago, but it has been a family affair since “the Tuesday after Labour weekend” in 1950 when Kevin bought Cleverley’s Bakery’s little Thames St shop. He had been working at Cleverley’s for about a year, and three or four of his colleagues followed him when he branched out on his own.

“They were good bakers, and general people, and they worked for us for a long time,” John said.

About four years later, Kevin bought McPhersons Bakery at the corner of Tees and Wansbeck Sts and that was used as the bakehouse. It had a coal-fired oven, which they baked in for a long time.

From the archives . . . A tour group watches Kevin Greaney hard at work at Peter Pan Bakery. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

In the early 1980s, the bakery shop shifted from Thames St to Eden St and in 2004, operations were combined on one site in Eden St, where the bakery and cafe is today.

A lot had changed over the years, but many traditions had continued and the key to the business’ success was its focus on the quality of products baked fresh every day, the people, and the history, he said.

“We really make sure things are done properly and we work hard, basically.”

He was proud of the legacy he and his father had built, and his fondest memories were with the community.

The bakery had several different types of “regular” customers – from those who came in every Friday for their potato-top pie to the travellers who popped in once every three months when they were passing through town, John said.

“You watch as people go through different stages of their lives,” he said.

“Some people who have lost their partner, and they get old, just to come in here and know that they know us – just a gidday, that’s all they want.

“It’s pretty simple stuff.”

The most discerning customers were the tradesmen, who were also regulars.

“They do expect good food.”

Last Friday morning, the bakery sent sausage rolls to Auckland and had a request for pies to be sent to Foxton, both orders from people who had stopped at the Peter Pan during their travels. Several years ago, the bakery made a wedding cake that was sent to Poland.

“It was an old couple going over to a wedding and they just wanted to do the cake – that was their thing,” John said.

“They carried this cake all the way on the plane.”

It had been a good business for the family.

All four of John and wife Sharon’s children – Kieran, Regan and twins Alyssa and Breanna – had worked there over the years, and while it was unlikely any of them would take the business over, it had been a great experience for them.

“They’ve learnt to make coffee, it’s given them a good sense of earning money and skills, dealing with the public, multitasking,” Sharon said.

But it required a lot of hard work – and early starts.

“It’s a nice type of business to be in, but it is very labour intensive,” John said.

“I can’t believe I’m still doing what I’m doing at this age, to be fair.”

There will be several celebrations at the bakery next week to mark 70 years in business, including birthday cake, spot prizes and daily specials.