Uniting a community with music and food

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Passion for music: Ray’s prized possession; his piano. Picture: Adana Hulett

By Adana Hulett

NESTLED in the heart of Balnarring on the Mornington Peninsula is The Red Hill Bakery. A family-run store that provides freshly made breads, cakes and pies as well as salads and takeaway meals. On a Sunday afternoon there is no better place to be than listening to the sounds of trumpets and saxophones live; a tradition run by the bakery.

Ray Johns is the face behind the name, owning the store alongside his wife Jill. Ray is a passionate and humble man who loves nothing more than music, bread and his beloved wooden boat. Born in Kew, his first job was delivering newspapers; “I loved it because I got to know everyone around town.”. When he was young, his aspirations were solely focused on music, something he continues to enjoy; “it’s my passion and my outlet.”.

In 1983, Ash Wednesday burned down Ray and Jill’s Upper Beaconsfield home. Although devastated, they grasped onto the opportunity of a fresh start. For a year, they lived in Tasmania, but the threat of destructive fires continued to loom over their heads. Seeking an area with open spaces and a strong sense of community, they finally found what they were looking for: the Mornington Peninsula, a jewel between two bays.

After a stint of playing music professionally 6 to 7 nights a week, Ray decided it was time for a change. He found a shop in Red Hill for sale; a single store front bakery. Jill had previously taught bread making, so they decided to take on the challenge; something Ray is always eager to do. Slowly, they added recipes to the menu, then a new coffee machine until they bought the store next door, turning it into a café.

Since then, the Red Hill Bakery has significantly grown. When Ray felt ready to expand, he felt Balnarring would “provide the biggest challenge.”. With Peninsula Link to directly connect with Balnarring Road, the “positioning and timing was perfect.”. The Balnarring store is now well and truly a part of the community, something Ray attributes to the diversity of the bakery. “We have Sunday Jazz, a children’s play area, a gallery; something for everyone.”, he listed pointing to the beautiful local paintings and drawings on the gallery wall, proving the bakery is more than just sweet treats and bread. “We also donate to the local football club, the fire brigade and school.”, he explained with an exuberant smile, clearly loving the differences he is able to achieve in the community.

Ray’s philosophy is simple yet effective; “being able to play a tune and play it well.”, is more important than a processed song could ever be. Just like with bread, “going back to the basics, something that has succeeded for hundreds of years, is the only way to make it.”. Ray is extremely proud of their local bread, happily telling its origins as it is “all from the Peninsula, literally straight from paddock to plate.”. The stone ground wheat they use is grown on Tuerong Farm the only Peninsula based farm to grow and mill wheat creating what Ray believes to be “the greatest breakthrough in bread making.”.

When questioned on the future, Ray seems to have no thoughts on retiring; “I love my job, it’s not work to me, it’s a way of life.”. The future of the bakery is to further integrate itself into the community, creating a safe and reliable place for locals. As for Ray, his future plans include crossing Bass Straight in his adored wooden boat, a treacherous journey he has made before and thoroughly enjoyed; “it’s rough out there, but truly special.”. His continued love for music seems everlasting as he wishes to keep playing his masterpiece of a piano and participating in Sunday Jazz.

With gentle humour and grand ambition, Ray and his wife Jill own not just a bakery, but the heart of Balnarring. Their desire to provide quality products is praised by their customers and the wider community. The Red Hill Bakery is quite possibly the best thing since sliced bread.

First published in the Mornington News – 27 November 2018

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