MUSICIAN Tom Gaden’s side hustle was hospitality before he moved into cafe and restaurant ownership. When he decided to start supplying his From Scratch Dough pizza bases on an industrial scale, the anxiety levels started to rise.
Thanks to a straight-forward HACCP system, Tom has full traceability of his artisan product and a business that has moved up the supply chain. His pizzeria S.P.Q.R is now a manufacturer of the From Scratch Dough brand that counts supermarkets among its customer base.
“I like the rules, the daily routines and records. As a business owner having everything logged is excellent for traceability. Accountability and traceability, that’s what I’m about, especially when I’m sending out 4000 pizzas bases a week. It removes the anxiety out of the away.”
Tom’s childhood dream was to become a musician. He studied music in high school played the saxophone in his 20s and 30s. His inspiration was legendary saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. In the background was hospitality starting with a job as a salad hand at Sizzlers as a 15-year-old. He moved from apprentice chef to managing restaurants like The Rapscallion in London to Melbourne’s well known City Wine Bar.
“I guess every musician’s side hustle is hospitality and along the way, hospitality became the reality.”
I think at the heart of it, I simply fell in love with wine, food and working with people. The next logical step was to open up my own business. Along the way I met my wife Natalie and she shared her dream of opening cafés with me. She helped me develop my passion for speciality coffee and business. Together we’ve had three cafés before the pizzeria.”
At one of the cafes a random meeting with a restaurant owner resulted in the opportunity to open the pizzeria S.P.Q.R.
“David was a restaurant owner around the corner and would come to our café for coffee and to have his business meetings. I think he saw my passion and my humour, being a people person and just my good vibe, I guess, was what he was into. Also, the fact I bring it strong on the music and street art front, because that’s what our cafés are all about.”
David Mackintosh, a prominent Melbourne restauranteur behind venues such as Movida and Ides, ended up being the couple’s business partner and helped conceptualise the business.
Tom and Natalie bought the street art and music to the brand, employing street artist Devante to come up with S.P.Q.R.’s signature look at the front of the Melbourne City and Docklands restaurants. It is what comes out of the kitchen that sets S.Q.P.R. apart from its competitors.
“What’s really unique about our S.P.Q.R. pizza’s is our sourdough culture starter, which has been maturing for 20 years. This gives it its own special flavour and punch, maturing in complexity every year,” says Tom.
For Tom, pizza is all about the dough base, which was a focus of the business from the start.
“When we first opened five years ago we got the sourdough starter from a friend of Daves and it was 15 years old at the time so now it’s 20 years old. You just keep feeding it and it keeps maturing and the flavour intensifies and gets more and more complex.
“In another 20 years the favour will be pretty amazing if we look after it”
Tom’s favourite remains the “queen of pizzas”, the Margarita, where the tomato, basil and cheese topping allows the flavour of base shine through.
The sourdough flavour of the From Scratch Dough bases was a big drawcard for retail customers but diversifying into wholesale was about food safety as well as taste. The pizza bases caught the eye of Emirates Leisure at Melbourne Airport, which became S.P.Q.R.'s first big wholesale client. HACCP Certification was a condition of supplying to Emirates and Tom saw it as a good thing to have in any case. Although the company had Melbourne City Council food safety programs in place, Tom said the depth of the HACCP certification appealed to him.
"In particular the traceability and accountability, the recall part of it was a big thing for me because we were also doing our pizza bases for food service through our distributor and I wanted to be sure we were covered because I'd never been in a manufacturing environment before. I also really liked the controls. Everything that HACCP brought I found really appealing."
"We Chose QMS audits for our HACCP Certification because we heard great things within the industry and their processes were very simple. And I thought Natasha was a legend, thorough and she helped remove the overall daunting aspect of going through the HACCP Certification. It was tough but QMS Audits had our back the whole way.
"For me it was really peace of mind that the staff are running everything day-to-day in line with the HACCP plan. Then I just need to do my housekeeping audit and check on their records as opposed to worrying about them every day. I just like the way it regulates everything.
HACCP was also an integral part of keeping staff employed while Melbourne's hospitality industry was shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions. Tom said the pizza bases helped bridge the gap when the pizzerias were restricted to takeaway.
S.P.Q.R. now produces about 4000 pizza bases a week and supplies to a number of outlets in Victoria including Leo's Fine Foods and Ritchie's IGA.
We chose QMS Audits for our HACCP Certification because we heard great things within the industry and their processes were very simple.
S.P.Q.R.'s move into the wholesale supply of pizza bases has paid off. The company's customer's now extend beyond Melbourne to regional Victoria and the next stage is national expansion.
"We've been able to supply to many bigger companies because of our HACCP certification, now we're able to travel further up the food chain so to speak."
Tom is thinking beyond the restaurant to a factory that can keep up with the demand.
"Because we are doing such big numbers we can't keep operating as a takeaway food shop and a food manufacturing shop as well, which is very exciting.
Tom expects an S.P.Q.R. factory will help facilitate a push into supplying major supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths, which have their own set of HACCP-based standards. Tom said becoming HACCP certified with QMS Audits was the first part of realising that ambition.
The pizzerias are still central to S.P.Q.R.'s brand, with Tom expecting to open more, potentially with franchising becoming a part of the business model in the future. While the business expands, Tom wants to retain the same creative spark that built the business in the first place.
"By setting the right parameters and setting the right elements, you can still have creative elements and controlled elements. Let people have fun in their creative areas but still adhere to the regulations and not letting things go right out of the ball park."