Friday, 11 May 2018 08:44

Two decades of pizza end this Sunday

After 23 years in business, Steve and Wendy Whitechurch will make their last pizzas at their Bairnsdale Domino’s store on Sunday. Steve and Wendy originally opened their business in September 1995 as Pinky’s Pizza having moved their three children, who were all under five, to Bairnsdale from Benalla in Victoria’s North-East. Wendy had grown up in Bairnsdale, so when the opportunity to start their own business and open a pizza franchise became available in town, it was an easy decision to move back home and be closer to her family. “We were living in Benalla at the time when the idea first came about. I was actually working for a Pinky’s Pizza in Benalla and it was a joke at first,” Wendy said. “My boss was teaching me all about the business and I said you’d want to be careful because I will open up in opposition and he said you’d be surprised how easy it is to get involved in the franchise. Three weeks later we moved here. It really came out of a joke, a passing comment. “This was when we had three kids under five, the twins (Lee and Sarah) were four and Kellie was two and I think it was my first job that I had gone back to after having the kids. “I guess we chose to do it because Steve was working as a builder during the day and I was working at night in this pizza restaurant. We never saw each other and we saw it as a way forward.” The business grew and traded successfully for 13 years. In 2008 Pinky’s Pizza franchise was bought out by Domino’s Australia and so in May 2008 Pinky’s Pizza became Domino’s Pizza. The store was given a new look, a new menu, and the tools and support to grow and evolve under the Domino’s banner. The past 10 years has seen Domino’s go through many changes with the introduction of technology such as GPS trackers, which enable customers to track their order from the store to their door.

Now in their 50s, Steve and Wendy feel it is time to get out of the fast food lane and enjoy time travelling and spending time with their family and have elected not to renew their franchise licence for another 10 years. “It’s been good and it’s provided us with a good lifestyle. We’ve put two kids through uni, but we are just at the point where we’re in our 50s so it is time to move on,” Wendy said. “We were Pinky’s Pizza for 13 years and then Domino’s bought the Pinky’s chain and that is how we became Domino’s. It wasn’t through choice. Domino’s took over Pinky’s and from then on we had a 10-year licence to operate as a Domino’s. “That 10-year licence is up next week and we just don’t want to renew for another 10 years. That would put us in our 60s and we don’t want to be working seven days a week and making pizzas at the age of 65, so it is time to move on. “I also work full-time at the hospital in the oncology department. I have worked at the hospital for 16 years and it’s just not sustainable to do both. Nursing is where the rest of my worklife will be. That is my passion now and hopefully Steve will just have a rest. “Domino’s is open seven days a week every day of the year, except Christmas Day, so we haven’t had a decent holiday in 10 years because who do you leave it to? “Every so often Domino’s expects that the store will reinvent itself so if somebody took this on as a Domino’s now they would have to spend a reasonable amount of money upgrading the store, so there’s that financial commitment required. “It is a good time to exit stage left, get out of the fast lane and relax.” Having survived for 23 years in a seven-daya- week business they are now looking forward to an overdue holiday. “I’ve actually got six weeks long service from the hospital, so we’re just going to go and have a break and relax,” Wendy said. “We need to make sure everything is cleaned and all the stock is out of the store, so we will spend the next week in here cleaning and sorting it out and then we’ve got a holiday booked so we will go lie down on the beach somewhere. We are very much looking forward to that. “All of our holidays have been two days here and three days there. We haven’t really had a decent break for 10 years.” What originally started as a short-term plan quickly grew into something more as Wendy and Steve often got involved in the community and worked hard to make sure their employees worked in the best environment possible. “It was a five-year plan initially and my older sister constantly reminds me about that,” Wendy said. “It has been good to us and we have made so many friends and lots of staff that worked for us 23 years ago are now really good friends. “We’ve had kids of staff that were employed 23 years ago now working for us, and there have been several instances of that, so that’s really nice to sort of have the second generation working for us. I don’t think that happens too often in business.

“Even in this last week people who have been regular customers of ours have come in and realised that we are closing, have wished us all the best and said how sad it is going to be that we are going. Hopefully we’ve left a good impression on guests and the place. “We have tried to support the community as much as possible. Over the years we have sponsored the football clubs, the netball clubs, helped donate money to the hospital, different school fetes and functions. “We have tried to embed ourselves in the community. Our kids went to school here obviously so we have always been involved in schools and fed the high school band every now and then.” The couple also ensured their store’s quality customer service would continue until the doors close. “Hopefully we leave it on a good note. I think a lot of people expect at the end you’d be like ‘what do you want?’ but we are still trying to maintain the good customer service right up to the last pizza sold. We don’t want to leave on a bad note,” Wendy said. While Wendy and Steve are both looking forward to the future, they admit they are sad they are shutting their store and leaving their staff without a job. “The only disappointing thing for us is that we would have preferred to sell it as a Domino’s so the staff could have maintained their employment, but unfortunately we couldn’t negotiate that and they are all pretty accepting,” Wendy said. “Most of the staff are kids and it is an after school job for them. For most of our delivery drivers it is a second job for them. “We’ve been really lucky, all of them have said we will stay until the last day, even after we told them ‘we will shut and you’ll be unemployed and we fully understand if you need to go and find work elsewhere’. “We accepted that that may happen and I said to Steve that if that happens we are not going to be able to put staff on because you can’t put staff on for two weeks, so we just expected to be short-staffed, but all of the staff have said no, we are going to stay until the last day so that’s been really nice. A couple of them have got jobs lined up so that’s good.” Both Wendy and Steve also thanked the community for the past 23 years of support, their family and friends for their unwavering support and understanding when they were unable to attend events, and their three children, who all worked in the store, often when they didn’t particularly want to.