Address: 201-203 Lonsdale St, Dandenong VIC 3175
Phone: (03) 9794 9500
From an interview with Eddie and Leo that has been edited.
A1 Bakery started on Sydney Rd.
Those owners ran this shop in Dandenong before we took over in 2004.
Sam, Eddie and I have been involved in restaurants and other businesses – Italian cuisine, cafes, grocery shops, mixed businesses and so on – but we had a desire to make Lebanese food.
Sometimes we’d make it at our other restaurants but, here, it’s full on. There’s the bakery side of it, the sweets side and the groceries.
There is quite a large Middle Eastern and European community in Dandenong and they all love our food.
Over time, A1 Bakery in Dandenong has become one of the major stores in Melbourne.
We grew up in a small village above Tripoli.
10 minutes away from the beach and 25 minutes away from the snow.
The snow stays this way all year round. It gets very hot in summer, but the mountains are so high that you can still see the snow. In the spring time, we can go swimming and skiing in the same day.
People say to me, “you come from a desert,” but we don’t have a desert in Lebanon. It’s one big mountain.
We love it over there – that’s where our childhood was, and our family is – and there’s something that keeps on dragging us back.
This is our culture, and it brings us closer to people.
Our grandparents ran an old bakery in Lebanon.
When we were kids, we would help them out.
We’d break the wood for them, mix the dough, roll it up by hand, set up the wood-fire oven and so on. The ovens were different then. We used to put rock-salt under the stone to keep it at a nice temperature. Now technology is getting greater and faster, but we learned how to bake the old-fashioned way.
After coming to Australia in 1976, Sam worked in a Coca Cola factory while Eddie and I were making Lebanese bread in a bakery. We have all been baking since we were 10 years old, and we have carried on from there. After a while, working with bread becomes like an addiction.
The smell of it, spreading the zaatar – which has sumac, thyme, sesame seeds and olive oil in it – and, when you bake it, it is magnificent. (Eddie) We add a little bit of salt and sugar in the dough and – when I come in – I have to eat it straight away.
We’re constantly baking and, because we do it from the heart, it always comes out beautifully. That passion gets stronger every day.
When you see us work, we are flying.
It is because we love it.
With our Lebanese pizza, we use traditional halloumi cheese.
Other pizza places use mozzarella or stringy cheese, but the halloumi cheese is very popular.
It’s nice and salty, it doesn’t melt as quickly as the other cheeses and the taste of it is completely different. It’s amazing when you put the cheese and the dough together. It’s a different taste, but it’s beautiful.
With the sausage pizza, we don’t use normal sausage. It’s beef, called sujuk. And the mince meat we use is mixed with special spices so, when it arrives, the flavour is brilliant. It appeals to all manner of people.
The traditional Lebanese sweets are from Ablas, and coffee is a big part of the business. We sell a lot of Lebanese coffee and a lot of lattes.
Our aim is to make Lebanese food the way that it is supposed to be made.
Our philosophy is that freshness is best.
If someone comes in and they want a new pizza, not what is available on the shelf, we can make a fresh one for them. We have a main menu, but we are always adjusting the dough mix, the mince-meat mix and so on to make it perfect.
Lunchtime is probably our busiest time, but you don’t know when somebody will come in. From 7am-3pm, there is always somebody here. Customers will buy pizzas that they’ll freeze, they might have a party they want to cater for or they’ll come in for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For us, the biggest things are good service, freshness and honesty. If the customer is happy, they will come back.
When we started, we thought most of our customers would be Lebanese.
But, they are Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Turks, Eastern Europeans, Afghans, Pakistanis, Indians, Africans and so on. And, for a lot of customers, A1 might be their first experience eating Lebanese food.
The multiculturalism of this city is the most wonderful thing that has happened. In here, people talk to each-other. They take food home to their families and, after work or on the weekend, they bring them here for a meal.
They get different things and, over time, they become more accustomed to Lebanese culture.
[Eddie] I’m 53 now, so if I could do six more years working here, I’d be happy.
If this was my property, I’d love to build a new restaurant and make homemade Lebanese food. There are a lot of stews that we do: baked beans with lamb, filled zucchini, eggplants and artichokes, the list goes on. Hopefully, in the next couple of years, it’ll happen.
We’ve been here for 15 years and – thank god – we’re still going.
If you cut corners, you might as well stay home.
But we’re doing it the right way.
The work here is enjoyable.
Our customers like that we are behind the counter, having a laugh.
And, ever since we came to this country, we have worked together as brothers.
We can rely on each other.
If one of us makes a mistake, someone will correct it. We work quite hard and – because we are family – nothing can destroy us.
After 41 years, we’re still together.
Written by Aron Lewin, with all photos by Tatiana C C Scott