Address: 40 Edwardes St, Reservoir VIC 3073
From an interview with Paul in 2021 that has been edited
Published in collaboration with the City of Darebin
Jim Sargent was the original owner of Sargent’s Cakes.
He started in 1952 and my dad, Barry, started working with Jim at 14 years old.
Dad eventually bought the business in 1978, but Jim would still come into the shop on Saturday mornings.
Even at 82 years old, it was his pride and joy.
Dad worked here for over 40 years and learned everything under Jim. It is such an institution in Reservoir, and we wanted to respect Jim by keeping the same business name.
With new technology and machinery, the baking side of things changed after dad took over.
Product wise, we’re still using a lot of the same recipes that Jim and dad used in 1952.
We’ve added a few lines like mud cake, red velvet and other different bits and pieces that people like. But for the classic stuff – like vanilla slices and éclairs – we use the same recipes.
If you came in to the shop in 1952, or 1983, or 2020, everything would feel pretty similar.
Dad never said why he wanted to be a baker, but he was always passionate about it.
He loved getting up early.
It’s hard work getting up at three or four o’clock in the morning, but then you have your afternoons to play golf and do the things you want to do. That lifestyle appealed to dad, and I’m the same. I love getting up early and having the afternoons to myself.
After dad retired around 1996, he kept coming in. It was his own business and he just loved it. For a few hours, he’d look around and say, “you should be doing this, you should be doing that.”
At 79 years old, he doesn’t come in as much, but – like Jim – he loves the shop.
I started as a baker with dad in 1983, and I’ve continued on.
I’ve been coming in to Sargent’s Cakes since I was eight years old.
During school, I’d get up at 3am on Saturday and help to grease tins and wash dishes. I loved doing these things with him, and I was set on becoming a baker. After school, I did a four-year apprenticeship at William Angliss. I never worked at another bakery.
I don’t think there was one particular moment when I knew this was for me, but I’ve always loved it. Even now, getting up at 3am and driving to work when there’s no one around. It’s exciting having that passion in life.
I still do dishes and grease tins, which is part of the job. I get my hands dirty and do all the shitty jobs. I don’t leave it to the apprentice and say, ‘you’re doing this,’ which happened when we first started.
It’s a hard lifestyle so you really have to enjoy the work.
There’s lines that have dropped off over the years.
The older generation might have liked it but the younger ones don’t eat it.
It’s little things like peel in the hot cross buns. No one likes peel so we stopped doing it. When we did wedding cakes, you’d always put the marzipan icing on, but they don’t like marzipan anymore. People used to love nut loafs, but that’s dropped off too.
Then you’ve got lines that come into fashion like the white mud cake with raspberry swirl. There was a bit of a craze with Nutella donuts, then someone on MasterChef makes a croquembouche, and everyone wants croquembouche. You swing and change with the fashions but our basic base products have stayed the same.
You have to stick with the traditional things that make Sargent’s Cakes Sargent’s Cakes, and add bits and pieces along the way.
The people that work here make Sargent’s Cakes special.
We have such wonderful staff, with some working at Sargent’s for over 30 years.
It’s a very family orientated business.
If there’s baked goods left over at the end of the day, staff take it. If there’s a lot left over, we’ll ring the nursing home down the road and they’ll come and get it. Or we’ll put it in the fridge and the first 10 regulars will get a little box case the next day. We won’t try to resell it as fresh.
If you’ve got that consistency, and the product is freshly made, and people know it’s fresh, and it tastes good, customers will keep coming back. You can also smell the fresh pastries down the street. People come in and say “it smells beautiful in here.”
I’m so used to that smell now but I remember as a kid, dad coming home, and smelling it on him.
We have customers coming in with little kids saying they’ve had every birthday cake they can ever remember from here.
Sargent’s Cakes is part of the fabric of Reservoir, and people will travel from all over to try our pies and cakes. I hear from customers about how special it is returning to Sargent’s Cakes after a long time, and they tend to say that it lives up to their memory.
It’s also getting to know customers, and knowing their story. It’s sad when someone’s daughter will come in and say their mum’s passed away, and the staff are in tears because she’s been coming in for 25 years – every Friday – to get two vanilla slices and two éclairs. They become part of the family.
The children will ring up and order 200 éclairs for the funeral because that was mum’s favorite cake.
You see customers grow up, and you get to know people that live in the area for years.
I don’t mind a cake.
I also enjoy seeing what bakeries do differently.
You can’t turn that bit of your brain off.
Whenever I go past a cake shop, I’ll stop to see what they’re doing. I enjoy seeing how good their product is and comparing the different styles and techniques.
My favourite cake here is a long-john which is like a cream donut. I also enjoy a couple of the pies including the curry and rice, and the steak, tomato and onion.
There’s also a couple of products here that I haven’t eaten in ten years.
I’ve been working with my wife, Kim, who started roughly five years after we married in 1991.
She works here on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Her background was in insurance so working in a bakery was a very different world, but she loves it. She’s a real people person and is passionate about the business. So many people ring up saying, ‘I want to speak to Kim.’ My mum also worked here for a long time along with dad. That family aspect adds to it.
The business was also dad’s life.
To work here for so long, then to buy it off Jim and see it become successful was incredibly meaningful.
We were really lucky that we were able to keep trading over the last few years.
When COVID hit, I thought, “oh my god,”
“We’ve got staff to pay.”
“Will we be able to open, and will people come out and buy from us?”
But we were really busy over 2020 and – even with birthday cakes dropping off – we had one of our best years.
I think customers wanted to support their locals. They were happy to keep coming in and buying our products.
People that live in Reservoir were fantastic, and that sort of got us through.
I still look forward to coming in to work.
And I don’t think we will change much in the future.
For years, people have said to me, “why don’t you open another shop?” But I have a good business here.
We don’t need to be bigger.
Some people have that drive where they want big, but this will always be a Reservoir bakery.
While we’ve got it anyway.
Written by Aron Lewin with all photos by Tatiana C.C. Scott
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