Has Yeast Gone to their Heads

A NSW federal MP, Joanna Gash, has used the protection of parliamentary privilege to air de Leeuw's alleged grievances. Among the MP's dramatic allegations are claims of fraud, inducing financial stress, and physical and financial intimidation.

The Age
April 8 2007

Has Yeast Gone to their Heads
James Kirby

A HUNDRED million hot cross buns. There's a thought, especially on Easter Sunday, when you probably don't want to see another hot cross bun for a year. But that's the number of buns the Bakers Delight franchise chain will have baked by today. This absurd statistic should give you some idea just how big Bakers Delight has become. In fact, after its entry into the US a few months ago, the Melbourne-based group is now the biggest bakery franchise in the world. What's more, it's a wonderful story or, at least, it used to be.

First the story: back in the early 1970s, Roger Gillespie could have been called a hippie. He was from a successful baking family but was spending time working with a guru named Vijay Yogendra. Roger started a bakery to help bankroll Yogendra and his alternative school operating at that time in St. Kilda. The bakery took off and became a chain that later transformed into Brumby's bakeries. Yes, Roger Gillespie is the founder of both Brumby's and Bakers Delight. He founded Bakers Delight in 1980 with his partner, Leslie, after they broke with Yogendra and the Brumby's group. The idealism never quite abated with the new Bakers Delight group and though the franchise network grew rapidly, the organisation has always been a top supporter of community charities. But the long-term success of the group — which has 14 per cent of the bread market — will always hinge on its relationship with its 500 franchisees and 15,000 workers (average age 20).

Two years ago, Bakers Delight ended up in the South Australian Industrial Relations Court, where the group was blasted by Judge James McCusker for paying a 15-year-old $8.95 an hour — 25 per cent less than the minimum award entitlement. Now Bakers Delight is in trouble again. Most franchisees at Bakers Delight run a single shop in a shopping strip — they start at 3am every day and should make a $100,000 operating profit a year. In the Kiama area of NSW, Dianne de Leeuw was allowed to build a chain of three Bakers Delight stores before she fell foul of head office. A NSW federal MP, Joanna Gash, has used the protection of parliamentary privilege to air de Leeuw's alleged grievances. Among the MP's dramatic allegations are claims of fraud, inducing financial stress, and physical and financial intimidation. Richard Taylor, the chief financial officer of Bakers Delight, says every one of the allegations are untrue. He also says the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is investigating the claims. We may never know what really happened. The ACCC will not confirm or deny an investigation is taking place. If an investigation is taking place, we may never see results. Gash alleges de Leeuw is facing losses of $2 million. Meanwhile, the wider success of Bakers Delight means the Gillespies are valued at $100 million — as I said, it's a wonderful story or, at least, it used to be.

Buns in the oven

  • Melbourne-based Bakers Delight has become the biggest bakery franchise in the world.
  • Easter week is the busiest week of the year for the fast-growing group.
  • Two years ago, the chain was charged with under-paying an 18-year-old.
  • A federal MP has aired a string of damaging claims from a former franchisee

**: Deanne de Leeuw, Parliamentary privilege, Bullying, Fraud, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, ACCC, Police intervention, Australia, 20070408 Has Yeast

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